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The Transformation of an Icon: General Motors‘ All-Electric Future

For over 110 years, General Motors (GM) has been a fixture of the global auto industry, shaping transportation and culture with iconic brands like Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC. But the company that put America on wheels with the first mass-produced cars is now undergoing a revolutionary transition to an all-electric future.

GM has pledged to phase out all gasoline and diesel light-duty vehicles worldwide by 2035 on the way to full carbon neutrality by 2040. To back up this ambitious goal, the company is investing a staggering $35 billion into electric and autonomous vehicle programs through 2025. An unprecedented lineup of 30 new EV models across all its brands will arrive by 2025, with the majority slated for the key North American and Chinese markets.

This electrification blitz represents an existential bet-the-company strategy shift for GM. No longer content to let Tesla and new EV startups dominate the zero-emissions future, GM is marshaling its immense engineering, manufacturing and financial resources to redefine itself as a preeminent 21st century electric mobility company.

GM‘s Multi-Pronged EV Approach

To grasp the scale and complexity of GM‘s electric transformation, it‘s helpful to break it down into key elements:

  1. Vehicle Platforms: The foundation of GM‘s electrification is its Ultium platform, a modular set of batteries, motors, and electronic components that can underpin nearly any type of EV, from compact cars to large pickups and SUVs. This flexibility allows GM to rapidly scale up EV production while reducing costs through economies of scale.

  2. Battery Technology: GM is developing its own battery cells and packs through a $2.3 billion joint venture with LG Energy Solution called Ultium Cells LLC. The large-format pouch cells use a low-cobalt NMCA chemistry for high energy density and thermal stability. Ultium packs also feature wireless battery management, enabling more compact designs. GM is targeting costs below $100/kWh.

  3. Electric Motors: Ultium Drive is GM‘s family of five interchangeable drive units and three motors. These can be mixed and matched to optimize power, torque and efficiency for each vehicle application. GM will build the units at its existing global propulsion facilities.

  4. Software and Connectivity: VIP is GM‘s new Linux-based software platform that will enable advanced driver assistance features (Super Cruise), over-the-air updates, vehicle-to-grid charging, and future autonomous driving capabilities. All GM EVs will also have 5G connectivity for fast data streaming, cloud services, and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication.

  5. Manufacturing: To make its EV goals a reality, GM is investing heavily to retool its North American manufacturing footprint for electric vehicles. This includes renovating existing assembly plants like Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck and Spring Hill, TN to build the GMC Hummer EV, Cadillac Lyriq, and other upcoming models. GM is also adding U.S. battery cell production capacity through the Ultium Cells joint venture, with plants in Ohio and Tennessee.

  6. Charging Infrastructure: As part of its $750 million EV charging initiative, GM is partnering with EVgo to add over 2,700 fast chargers nationwide by 2025, tripling the size of the current network. GM is also rolling out Ultium Charge 360, a comprehensive charging ecosystem that integrates route planning, payment, and access to over 60,000 plugs in the U.S. and Canada.

  7. New Business Models: GM‘s self-driving vehicle subsidiary Cruise is developing a next-gen all-electric autonomous ridesharing vehicle called Origin with Honda. This will allow GM to tap into the emerging robotaxi market and expand its revenue streams beyond traditional vehicle sales.

  8. Fleet Sales: With compelling electric commercial vehicles like the BrightDrop EV600 van and Chevy Silverado EV work truck, GM aims to capture a major share of the fleet market as businesses and governments electrify. GM has also launched a new one-stop fleet management service called BrightDrop.

  9. Dealer Network: To bring its growing lineup of EVs to market, GM is working with its dealers to install Level 2 charging at dealerships, provide EV sales training, and create dedicated EV service bays. The company is investing $40 million to help dealers make the transition.

Gaining Momentum: GM‘s Current and Future EV Lineup

With so many EV models in the pipeline, it can be hard to keep track of GM‘s electrified offerings. Here‘s a rundown of the company‘s growing zero-emissions portfolio:

  • Chevrolet Bolt EV/EUV: GM‘s most affordable EVs deliver 247-259 miles of range for under $32,000 before incentives. Despite a major battery recall, the Bolt twins have sold well, with over 100,000 units to date.

  • GMC Hummer EV: This "supertruck" packs up to 1,000 hp and 350+ miles of range into an unapologetically macho, off-road capable package. First deliveries of the $110,000 Edition 1 began in late 2021. Less expensive trims will follow.

  • Cadillac Lyriq: Cadillac‘s first EV is a sleek midsize crossover with a 100 kWh battery, 340 hp, and an estimated 300+ mile range. Priced from $59,990, the Lyriq is already sold out for its first model year.

  • Chevrolet Silverado EV: Chevy‘s best-selling nameplate goes electric in late 2023 with up to 400 miles of range, 664 hp, and 10,000 pounds of towing capability. It will also offer a breakthrough midgate that extends the bed to nearly 11 feet. Prices will span from $39,900-$105,000.

  • Cruise Origin: GM‘s Cruise subsidiary is developing this purpose-built robotaxi with Honda for ridesharing services starting in 2023. It will use sensors instead of mirrors and a spacious, living room-like interior to create a new passenger experience.

  • Cadillac Celestiq: This hand-built, ultra-luxury electric flagship sedan will be Cadillac‘s new technology and design showcase. Early specs hint at a massive 120 kWh battery pack and 4-wheel steering. Prices are expected to start around $200,000 when it debuts in 2023.

  • Chevrolet Blazer EV: A sporty midsize electric crossover with Camaro-inspired styling and up to 320 miles of range. The SS performance model will sprint from 0-60 mph in under 4 seconds. Sales begin in spring 2023.

  • Chevrolet Equinox EV: Slotting below the Blazer in size and price (around $30K), the electric Equinox aims to bring long-range EVs to the heart of the compact crossover market when it arrives in fall 2023.

  • GMC Sierra EV: An electric version of GMC‘s popular premium pickup is expected to debut in 2023 with the Ultium platform, Super Cruise driver assist, and up to 400 miles of range.

  • Buick EVs: Buick will launch a series of "Electra" branded EVs through 2025, likely starting with a compact crossover based on the Chevrolet Equinox EV. The sleek Wildcat coupe concept hints at Buick‘s future electric design language.

Assessing GM‘s Competitive Position

GM‘s aggressive embrace of EVs has thrust it towards the front of the industry‘s electrification race. The company now rivals – and in some ways surpasses – other EV leaders:

GM vs. Tesla

While Tesla currently dominates the U.S. EV market, GM is quickly ramping up to challenge its rule. The Ultium platform‘s modularity and vertical integration could allow GM to outpace Tesla in model offerings and volume. GM also has several natural advantages, including long-standing supplier/dealer relationships, brand loyalty, global production scale, union workforce, and fleet sales channels. However, Tesla maintains an edge in software, batteries, and cost efficiency, especially with new giga-factories coming online. Its direct-to-consumer model may prove more agile as EVs gain steam.

GM vs. Ford

GM and Ford have each staked aggressive EV goals as they vie for second place behind Tesla. Ford got out of the gate earlier with the Mustang Mach-E crossover and F-150 Lightning pickup, which are selling briskly. However, GM will soon have EVs in the two largest vehicle categories (full-size pickups and compact crossovers), while boasting longer range estimates than comparable Fords. GM also has a more comprehensive EV platform, more total models in the pipeline, and a clear battery/manufacturing roadmap through its Ultium initiatives.

GM vs. Volkswagen

Volkswagen has perhaps the most ambitious electrification plans of any legacy global automaker, with a target of 50% EV sales by 2030 and over 25 new models by 2025. Its flexible MEB architecture is rolling out across multiple brands and segments, from the mainstream VW ID.4 crossover to the luxury Audi e-tron GT. Compared to GM, VW has a more extensive (and proprietary) fast charging network, a more affordable entry-level lineup, and a strong position in Europe. However, GM likely has the edge in EV trucks, a profit-rich segment where VW doesn‘t compete.

GM vs. Startups

A new crop of EV startups like Rivian, Lucid, Fisker, and Nio are aiming to follow in Tesla‘s tire tracks. While these companies are unencumbered by legacy business models and boast impressive technology, they lack GM‘s scale, manufacturing expertise, brand recognition, and volume potential. GM‘s ability to leverage its existing assets and cash flow as it transitions to EVs will be a major advantage over smaller pure-play EV makers.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Despite its many strengths, GM faces a steep road ahead as it navigates the biggest business transition in its history. Key challenges include:

  • Profitability: With EVs expected to remain less profitable than traditional vehicles for the near future, GM will have to balance the financial strain of its long-term EV investments with the ongoing need to generate cash from its core truck/SUV business. A recession or downturn in overall auto demand could force GM to dial back EV spending.

  • Supply Chain: As EVs ramp up, automakers are already battling shortages of key components like semiconductors, battery raw materials, and specialized EV parts. GM‘s ability to secure adequate supply at reasonable costs will be critical to meeting its production targets. Vertical integration and strategic partnerships will help, but won‘t eliminate all risks.

  • Charging Infrastructure: While GM is helping to finance new charging stations, the U.S. network still has major gaps, especially in urban and rural areas. Lack of reliable fast charging remains a top barrier to EV adoption. Federal infrastructure investments will help, but building out adequate charging will take years.

  • Policy Support: GM and other automakers are lobbying for an extension of the $7500 federal EV tax credit, which is currently capped at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer (a limit GM has already reached). Lack of ongoing incentives would put GM at a disadvantage to EV makers who haven‘t yet hit the cap. State/local mandates and regulations around EVs also remain a patchwork.

At the same time, GM has significant opportunities to lead the EV revolution:

  • First-Mover Advantage: Having several ground-up EVs already on the market or launching soon gives GM a chance to define the segment, build customer loyalty, and establish supply chain/production expertise ahead of rivals.

  • Full Portfolio: With Ultium-based EVs spanning all vehicle sizes, body styles, and price points, GM can be a one-stop-shop for almost any EV buyer and cover all major market segments.

  • Autonomy: GM‘s Cruise division is a leader in self-driving technology, with over 2 million miles of autonomous rides already logged in complex urban environments like San Francisco. Cruise gives GM access to a whole new mobility-as-a-service business model.

  • Global Reach: As the largest U.S. automaker by sales, GM has the global scale and manufacturing base to rapidly proliferate its EV models around the world, including in China, the largest EV market.

  • New Revenue Streams: Connected services, energy management, recycling, and other EV-adjacent businesses could all drive new revenue for GM beyond the sale of the vehicle itself.

The Road Ahead

General Motors‘ journey to an all-electric future is still in its early stages, with many obstacles and unknowns ahead. But if the company‘s recent actions are any indication, it is "all in" on EVs and moving with the speed and decisiveness of a Silicon Valley startup, not a century-old industrial giant.

The next 2-3 years will be a critical test, as GM launches its next wave of Ultium EVs and scales up battery production. Achieving price parity with gas vehicles while maintaining profitability will be key to reach the inflection point of mass EV adoption.

Shareholders seem to have faith in CEO Mary Barra‘s vision, with GM‘s stock price doubling over the past year. But short-term economic headwinds and industry-wide challenges like supply chain disruption and raw material costs still pose risks.

Nonetheless, with its comprehensive EV strategy, massive investments in electrification, and iconic American brands, GM has the potential to redefine itself for the 21st century and become a dominant force in the EV era – an era that‘s arriving faster than anyone predicted. The Automotive Industry‘s Electric Future starts Now.