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All you need to know about GM’s electric future

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Image via General Motors

By: Jeremy J. Zacharias

General Motors: working towards a safer, greener and better world. This idea is the new focus of General Motors, which plans to phase out vehicles using internal combustion engines by 2035, according to GM’s Chairman and CEO, Mary Barra. Carbon Neutrality by 2035 at all GM worldwide facilities will be the goal for the company.

GM’s renewed ambition into its electric future is fueled by Norway’s EV adoption. With more than 54% of new vehicles sold in Norway being electric, Norway has more EVs per capita than any other country. GM has teamed up with actor and comedian, Will Ferrell, who is excited to be a part of GM’s commitment to EVs.

As more automakers are shifting their sights to a fully electric future, GM is doubling down on its investment into its electric lineup by setting a deadline for its electric transition. This is a long step from GM’s first mainstream electric offering, the Bolt, which was launched in 2016 to rival the Tesla Model 3.

Brief History of GM’s Electric Past

Well before Tesla became a mainstream name for vehicle electrification, and even before Elon Musk was an eccentric billionaire, GM was the first mainstream automaker to develop an electric vehicle. The General Motors EV1 was an electric car produced and leased by GM from 1996 through 1999. The EV1 was made by GM for limited lease production to residents of Los Angeles, California, and Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, and this was later expanded to other cities including San Francisco and Sacramento, California. However, with supposed growing pressure from oil lobbyists and the corporate thought that electric vehicles represented an unprofitable segment of the automotive industry, GM made the decision to cancel the EV1 program and destroyed most of its cars. The EV1 models that survived were either donated to museums or educational institutions once their electric powertrains were disabled.

GM’s controversial decision to discontinue the EV1 and crush a vast majority of remaining units makes the EV1 one of the rarest vehicles from the 1990s.

GM’s Reintroduction into the Electric Vehicle Market

Nearly a decade after the discontinuation of the EV1 project, GM re-entered the electric vehicle game with the development of the Bolt EV. The Bolt was announced soon after Tesla revealed its Model 3 concept in 2016 and competed with Tesla in terms of electric range and affordability.

However, the Bolt never could measure up to the performance or the brand popularity of Tesla and its Model 3. Compared to the sales of the Tesla Model 3, the sales of the Bolt fell flat. With that in mind, GM’s transition to a fully electric lineup is a tall order, but GM has a plan in place to gain success.

How GM Aims to Convert to Fully Electric?

GM’s transition to fully electric is no small feat. However, GM plans to accomplish this by investing in its Ultium EV Architecture, which includes a revolutionary battery infrastructure and malleable vehicle platform. According to GM’s website, GM’s new modular Ultium Platform will be the heartbeat of the company’s all-electric future and will accommodate a wide range of EV styles and sizes.

First, GM is investing in its battery technology through its new Ultium battery joint venture with LG Chem, a South Korean based company. With a modular, flexible design and a common cell across different vehicle types, the battery system uses cells stacked vertically (for pickups and SUVs) or horizontally (for performance vehicles), allowing GM to build electric vehicles for diverse customers and various segments. In terms of GM’s EV battery economics, the battery power pack in its current Bolt EV costs approximately $145 per kilowatt hour. With the development of the new Ultium battery, the target cost for implementation is estimated to be between $70 to $100 per kilowatt hour, which would save thousands per EV.

GM’s Ultium Platform will feature modular battery and drive unit combinations and will be flexible enough to build a wide range of trucks, SUVs, crossovers, sedans and commercial vehicles with outstanding design, performance, range and affordability. This Ultium vehicle platform will allow GM to keep the cost of developing new EVs lower and will allow the company to present a variety of vehicle offerings over its competitors.

The Ultium Platform also includes Ultium Drive, which is made up of electric motors, single-speed transmissions and their integrated power electronics. This will provide future GM EVs their power and torque.

In addition, GM claims that it will be the first automaker to use an almost completely wireless battery management system for EVs. The system will power multiple types of EVs from a common set of battery components and make the batteries easier to reuse for second-life applications.

GM’s Ultium Platform is estimated to give its electric vehicles a range of approximately 450 miles, which is in direct competition with Tesla’s latest offerings. The versatile Ultium platform will also cut production time considerably. This greatly assisted GM to reduce the time to bring to market the hotly anticipated Hummer EV from 50 months to 26 months.

GM Offers Enticing Electric Lineup

Although GM’s goal is to go fully electric by 2035, the company is aiming to have 30 EVs to market by 2025, which represents a $27 billion investment into GM’s EV future. This generous offering of EVs can be accomplished in no small part by implementing the Ultium System.

Of the 30 EVs set to come to market by 2025, 20 of the offerings are set for North America.  The 20 projected EVs for North America include the much anticipated Hummer EV, the Cadillac Lyriq and Celestiq, and the redesigned Bolt and Bolt EUV, among others.

Final Thoughts

If GM went long with its EV1, the EV landscape might have looked much different today. However, although GM did not believe in the viability of a fully electric auto market back in the 90s, it surely believes in it now. GM’s Ultium Platform is intriguing, and if GM is able to succeed with its venture to go fully electric by 2035, the Ultium EV Architecture will be the main reason.  

As more automakers see the future of the automotive industry as being electric, it is refreshing to see established names, such a GM, dive in deep into an electric future. If GM can deliver on its goal, this will surely be one step closer to a safer, greener and better world.

Also, as Will Ferrell has most eloquently stated, “We’re coming for you, Norway!!”

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