Top General Motors (GM) executives have set out the automaker's plans for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) as well as autonomous vehicles, speaking to investors at an event on 30 November. This article discusses BEVs and a later report will discuss autonomous vehicles.
IHS Markit perspective
- Implications: GM is well on the way to developing a new-generation battery pack with notably lower cell cost and flexibility to support several vehicle types, the company's executive vice-president of global product development, Mark Reuss, told the investors' event.
- Outlook: GM is building on its 20 years of experience in the BEV market, developing a follow-up to the battery architecture. GM's presentation was meant to assure financial investors of the viability of the company's plans, but it also provided insights into the depth of its strategy and where it believes it has the knowledge and resources to deliver on its potential.
General Motors' (GM) senior leadership presented its plans for "redefining the future of personal mobility", including battery electric vehicles (BEVs) (aiming for "over 300 miles of range") and autonomous vehicles, in a presentation to investors on 30 November. GM CEO and chairperson Mary Barra set the backdrop and presented the company's topline target. Mark Reuss, executive vice-president of global product development, outlined the potential for GM's next-generation battery pack and platform development, building on the preliminary information announced in October. GM president Dan Ammann discussed the company's view of the autonomous vehicle market, while Cruise Automation CEO Kyle Vogt discussed the progress and approach of Cruise and GM to date. Ammann's and Vogt's comments will be covered in a separate IHS Markit report.
Barra believes GM will contribute to creating a zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion environment, pointing to the company's history of changing the way people move about the world. She said, "We feel it is our responsibility to create a world where we are addressing the challenges that have come with the benefits of mobility." Barra also reinforced that GM's focus was on the customer remaining central. She stated that the company's foundation is its people, their values and behaviour, and the resulting culture. With a solid foundation, the core business will help GM grow for the future. To Barra, the core business includes a winning portfolio with a strong brand and 'adjacent' business growth. She said, "Several assets in the core [business] allow us to have a leadership position in the transformative technologies." Adjacent business growth is relatively traditional in Barra's view: GM Financial, connectivity and service parts/aftersales. In the future, GM will move towards connected EVs and autonomous vehicles (AVs), with shared mobility and data opportunities from the new AV framework.
Battery electric vehicle development
Reuss addressed where GM is in terms of BEV development, and confirmed that GM expects all its autonomous vehicles will be BEVs. Reuss underscored that GM is working to develop products that provide answers to the needs and desires of its customers, and mentioned towing. Overall, Reuss says GM is quite far along in development of the next-generation BEV, saying that it is "not just words in a press release war".
Reuss said GM will deliver "desirable, obtainable and profitable [electric] vehicles that deliver over 300 miles of range", and confirmed two BEV crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) within 18 months. These two near-term products will use the existing Bolt EV architecture, whereas others will shift to GM's next-generation EV technology. Relative to the battery technology, Reuss said that GM owns its chemistry technology, working with suppliers to get battery packs built, and characterised the Bolt EV as the first to crack the code between range and affordability.
The next-generation platform is agile and designed to meet rapidly changing vehicle demands, Reuss said. GM will use a building-block approach that supports multiple drive configurations across geographical regions and optimises the flexible battery pack for lower cost. Relative to BEV demand, Reuss said that GM "will partner, incentivise and invest wherever it is necessary to remove those barriers to acceptance".
According to Reuss's presentation, GM's modular architecture will have two "centroid" entries, a "Lux 3 SUV [sport utility vehicle]" for five passengers – this will be the lead entry. The other "centroid" product will be a compact SUV, also for five passengers. Reuss indicates that the "bandwidth" of this architecture is capable of encompassing vehicles that are shared (for example, a four or five-person shared AV), functional (a light commercial vehicle, LCV), expressive (a luxury low-roof vehicle), and efficient (a low-roof car). Derivatives from the architecture will range from small to large, including a small SUV, compact CUV, luxury compact CUV, large seven-passenger SUV, and luxury large seven-passenger SUV. Reuss said these vehicles will "change the way people think about BEVs and how they think about the environment and transportation, and solving some of the real problems we have around the world in congestion".
According to Reuss, GM is the leader in battery-pack cost reduction and is well on its way to seeing a cost of less than USD100 kilowatt hour, on battery cell development and leveraging partnerships to scale. The new battery pack is referred to as EME 1.0 (Electric Mobility for Everyone). Reuss says GM improvements to EME 1.0 battery architecture include a 30% cost reduction, higher energy density, larger footprint, lower height, a flexible and modular design, and improved DC fast-charging from the new pack. As described, the new battery pack answers a host of questions, from enabling a wide variety of vehicle types to lower cost.
GM's expectation of profitable BEVs is supported by the 30% cost improvement in the battery pack as well as a host of other areas in which GM sees profitability improvement opportunities. The opportunities GM sees are industry growth (particularly in China), having a platform useful for multiple segments, range options for the customer, a common architecture for global scale, and manufacturing efficiency with less complexity – combined with its particular experience and knowledge – enabling it to deliver a profitable BEV portfolio from its all-new platform. Reuss also noted that the battery pack will enable simplicity in manufacturing, suggesting the number of cells may be changed depending on application, compared with today's vehicles seeing multiple engines for multiple regions. Reuss also sees GM's staff of current and future engineers as a "market advantage that is very integrated and very deep".
Outlook and implications
GM is building on its 20 years of experience in the BEV market, developing a follow-up to its battery architecture. GM's presentation was meant to assure financial investors of the viability of the company's plans, but also provided insights into the depth of its strategy and where it believes it has the knowledge and resources to deliver on its potential.
The current IHS Markit powertrain forecast projects that 2.3% of GM's global production will be BEVs; the information from this presentation, as well as other market factors, will be incorporated into a future forecast round. GM's future BEV medium-term business opportunities appear heavily dependent on its ability to execute its autonomous vehicle strategy, in particular as acceptance of BEVs currently lags in the consumer market. Although an increasing number of entries is expected to have an impact on the market, IHS Markit currently forecasts BEVs will reach only 2.4% of total US sales in 2021 and about 4% in 2025. GM's access to the Chinese market, and that country's currently aggressive move towards new-energy vehicles (NEVs) could be a tailwind for GM. IHS Markit expects the two vehicles that Reuss referred to as arriving by 2020 will be one each for Buick and Cadillac; the Cadillac is expected to be the second of the two. Based on the types of vehicles that Reuss suggested are potential new BEVs, Cadillac is likely to take a bigger role in the future BEV market.
While GM has confirmed 20 zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) by 2023, the company still has not confirmed details of the brands, models, powertrains, or geographic sales regions involved – and GM is working on hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain applications as well, also considered ZEVs. The presentation to investors provided further information on the exhaustive list of vehicle types the company expects to offer in this space in the medium term and insight into GM's expectations for profitability and the variety of product types it plans for BEVs. The variety expected will position the company well for meeting the varied customer needs of a full-line automaker. A BEV pick-up does not seem to be part of the equation for the company, although GM's work with fuel-cell hydrogen powertrains includes a test Chevrolet Colorado as well as a potential fuel-cell EV (FCEV) platform based on a heavy-duty pick-up. This suggests that the company is, at least initially, looking towards an FCEV for the heavier-duty needs of a full-size pick-up.
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