Last week, GM-subsidiary Cruise unveiled the Origin, its first self-driving car without a steering wheel or pedals. At the time, the company’s CEO Dan Ammann promised to reveal production details in the days to come. Well, today’s the day, with GM announcing plans to spend $2.2 billion to retrofit its Detroit-Hamtramck plant for the production of autonomous and electric vehicles.
In addition to the Origin, the facility will also produce all-electric SUVs and pickup trucks. The automaker plans to release 20 electric nameplates by 2023, the first of which will be an electric truck slated to go into production in 2021. This will be followed “soon after” by the Cruise Origin, a shared, electric, self-driving vehicle unveiled in San Francisco last week. Detroit-Hamtramck will be GM’s first “fully-dedicated” electric vehicle assembly plant, the company said. (The news was first reported by The Detroit News last week.)
This represents an about-face for GM, which had been planning on closing its Detroit-Hamtramck facility in June 2019 but changed course after discussions with the United Auto Workers union last fall. Detroit-Hamtramck employs about 900 people and makes four vehicles, including the Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CT6. The facility was one of five North American plants GM has announced plans to close. GM said it will be “idled” for several months beginning at the end of February as the renovations begin.
It is also GM’s second significant production announcement in recent months. Last December, the automaker said it was setting up a joint venture with South Korea’s LG Chem to mass-produce batteries for electric cars, with the two companies planning to invest a total of $2.3 billion to build a new facility in Lordstown, Ohio. This facility will supply battery cells for the electric vehicles manufactured at Detroit-Hamtramck.
GM said tax incentives from the state of Michigan made this decision possible — though the automaker didn’t disclose the amount. “This investment helps ensure that Michigan will remain at the epicenter of the global automotive industry as we continue our journey to an electrified future,” GM president Mark Reuss said in a statement.
GM hasn’t released a new electric vehicle since the Chevy Bolt in 2016. The company plans to turn Cadillac into its leading EV brand, which it hopes will help it catch up to other automakers in the luxury market. Over the last year, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and BMW have introduced high-end electric vehicles intended to compete with Tesla’s Model S and X.
The announcement of the Origin was a significant milestone, representing the first purpose-built autonomous vehicle without traditional controls to eventually go into mass production. The vehicle was designed with help from Honda, which is a major investor in GM subsidiary Cruise. The driverless electric shuttle has the same dimensions as a small crossover, and it’s designed to be shared as part of a ride-hailing service.