What’s going on at General Motors? They were early adopters of electric vehicles, but their last fully EV design was the Bolt car back in 2016.
Trucks were another story. They were late to the game with fully electric trucks but have apparently re-evaluated their position. Originally, they insisted that internal combustion was going to be around far into the future and were the last of the major U.S. automakers to get on board, but they’ve rehashed the Hummer brand, defunct since 2009, which is slated to evolve into a complete line of EV trucks.
Utilizing brand recognition of a historically tough vehicle might be a good move, though the last of the Hummers were just a shadow of their hard-earned heritage.
The Hummer H3 was a rebodied Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon pickup. This move might attract those who remember Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime “governator” days driving his personal military-grade Humvee, convincing them that an EV truck is every bit as rugged as their old gas or diesel versions, or it might have the opposite effect and turn people away from a brand they now see as diluted and compromised.
One thing is for certain, GM has gone all in on their EV investment.
Perhaps their decision was market-driven, but it was certainly accelerated by a 40-day United Autoworkers Union strike last fall over a planned closing of five assembly plants and the loss of those respective jobs.
The strike cost GM $3.6 billion and was the longest-lasting strike by the union against GM in more than a half-century. Since then, rather than close, GM has committed $2.2 billion to retooling their Detroit-Hamtramck plant in Michigan, making it their first dedicated EV plant.
This facility is slated to produce 20 new models of EVs, including pickups and SUVs, by 2023, with the first vehicle, a new Hummer, to roll off the assembly line in 2021.
A subsidiary of GM called Cruise also will have a home on the assembly line at Detroit-Hamtramck, where a fully autonomous vehicle called the Origin will be made.
Specifically designed for the ride-hailing business — you might remember when we called them taxis — the Origin will have no steering wheel or pedals. Soon, riders can stay glued to their phone screens without being rude to the driver — who isn’t there. Still an uneasy thought for many, the public has a few years to warm up to the idea.
Power for all these vehicles will come from another planned facility in Lordstown, Ohio. In a joint venture with LG Chem, a South Korean supplier of EV batteries for Daimler and Volkswagen, EV power cells will be shipped to Detroit for use in the EVs produced there by General Motors.
This $2.3 billion investment should ensure an ample supply of batteries for the variety of GM vehicles scheduled. Tesla is partnering with Panasonic for similar reasons as the projected need for EV batteries is expected to grow exponentially with the planned introduction of so many new models.
GM is still playing catch-up with leading-brand electric vehicles from high-end makers like Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar, themselves chasing Tesla for market share. GM plans to rebrand Cadillac as their leading EV line.
As General Motors' global footprint shrinks in response to lagging sales and shrinking profits, focus will be on the U.S., China, South Korea and South American markets.
In 2017, GM sold European brands Opel and Vauxhall to Peugeot while simultaneously pulling out of African markets, and by 2021, Holden, manufactured and sold in Australia and New Zealand, will be gone, ending all right-hand drive vehicles produced by GM.
Great Wall Motor Co. of China has agreed to purchase GM's Thailand plant, a major pickup market where Chevy has a presence, another step in GM's long-term reorganization strategy.
Internal combustion won’t go away overnight, and the key for manufacturers will be navigating the transition while remaining profitable and fulfilling the demands of consumers.
Infrastructure and charging stations are still sparse in rural areas, and that will need to be addressed as EVs are increasingly released on the market.
Maintenance and service will also need to adapt to the changing technology.
I’m sure all will be addressed in time as society gets used to hailing driverless cars.
Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 299 Main St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.