General Motors: Electrification Will Take ‘Years and Decades’

Since the dawn of the new century, the automotive industry has been forced to revise electrification timelines for a cavalcade of reasons. Development programs have proven costly, the economy has taken a turn (or turns) for the worse, customers haven’t responded in great numbers, and the materials necessary for battery have been in short supply for many. Throw in the trouble some companies have had with programming such cars or ending up with electric vehicles that want for truly enviable range and you’re beginning to see the whole, problematic enchilada.

It wasn’t all that long ago that General Motors promised over 20 new all-electric models by 2023. Granted, this promise was made in 2017 — during a time when the industry couldn’t possibly have foreseen the global hardships that would befall us or known we’d have the ability to remember what was said just a few years prior. The messaging has changed, either because mainstream automakers cannot provide the kind of cars that will continue to spur EV adoption, or because they no longer hold much interest in trying. 

In a way, we feel kind of sorry for the industry. Environmental regulations forced the electrification issue to a point where most players had to at least indicate they had a serious interest in the technology. But only Tesla seems to have made any legitimate headway with customers, creating a strong base thanks to top-tier branding and simply being the first team to deliver an enviable electric car.

“We believe the transition will happen over time,” General Motors CEO Mary Barra told David Rubenstein in an interview on Bloomberg Television. While she still has faith in an all-electric future and noted that GM has a new battery platform coming out soon, Barra said the company needs to “provide options for the entire market place.”

She then went on to say how excited she was about the transition to electric vehicles, which no longer appears to be taking place within her lifetime. When asked if GM will swap to producing EVs exclusively in 10 to 20 years, Barra suggested it would likely take longer than that.

“I think it’ll happen over a period of years and decades. When you look at the transition that needs to occur, there’s about 250 million U.S. cars in the car park. And so, transitioning all of them is going to take some time.  You think about different use cases, also affordability. That’s why we’re working to hard to ensure we’re in a leadership position with battery technology — so EVs are affordable for everyone.”

Surely, that’s also why GM is building the Hummer EV — a vehicle that spits in the face of efficiency and affordability while still being entirely electric. Barra mentioned the upcoming model briefly in the interview, glossing over its status as an all-electric plaything for people who want to drive a miniature monster truck while still feeling like they’re saving the environment. She also didn’t harp on its delayed arrival. That doesn’t mean it won’t be great when it does debut; it just doesn’t seem to represent the corporate ideals GM would like to convey to the public.

From Bloomberg:

In addition to funding its EV program, GM also is spending about $1 billion a year to fund Cruise LLC, the self-driving car unit the Detroit-based carmaker majority owns. A return on that investment will bear fruit before long, Barra said. Although Cruise canceled plans to launch a ride-hailing service last year and has not set a new date, it is developing a self-driving vehicle that will be dedicated to a robotaxi service.

“I definitely think it will happen within next five years,” she said of of fully driverless cars being deployed. “Our Cruise team is continuing to develop technology so it’s safer than human driver. I think you’ll see it clearly within five years.”

Cruise’s first autonomous vehicle was supposed to be ready for GM’s uses by 2019, sans steering wheel and pedals. Unfortunately, development woes that were hardly exclusive to America’s largest automaker made that impossible. Bloomberg also failed to mention the manufacturer cut autonomous development staffers by roughly 8 percent this year.

We have even less faith in AVs than we do EVs, the latter of which seem to be hung up by logistical issues and rapidly advancing technology. Vehicular autonomy appears to have stagnated entirely, with many automakers allocating less resources to programs after hitting R&D roadblocks. Legal gray areas surrounding liability also plague the concept. However, the industry is still keen to rework cars so you can spend less time driving and more time interfacing with in-car displays that are perpetually connected to the internet — an idea we’re not overly fond of.

Shifting back to EVs, there’s little chance the General will hit its old target and saturate the market with EVs by 2023. It definitely has several moving up the spreadsheet toward production, with large electric models presumably coming to GMC and Cadillac in 2021. But that leaves the company releasing over a dozen other battery driven vehicles (or plug-in hybrids) on a tight timeline.

We don’t foresee any automaker that isn’t Tesla cornering the green market for the next few years. Most manufacturers have already overshot the metaphorical landing zone and seem to be going around for another attempt. Others have come dangerously close to crashing on the runway. GM’s in a tough spot, though we figure its base doesn’t care one whit what it’s doing in terms of green vehicles. They’ll happily continue buying affordable family transportation from the company, mainly in the guise of pickups and crossover vehicles.

[Images: General Motors]

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