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GM unveils a new electric vehicle platform and battery in bid to take on Tesla

GM unveils a new electric vehicle platform and battery in bid to take on Tesla


The largest automaker in the US will spend $20 billion to assure investors it’s serious about embracing an electric future

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Photo by Steve Fecht / General Motors

General Motors laid out its electric vehicle strategy on Wednesday, showcasing roughly a dozen products as part of a broader attempt to convey to investors how serious it is about embracing its electric future.

In addition to showing off some of its upcoming vehicles, GM revealed an all-new modular electric vehicle platform with an improved battery pack called Ultium. Much like Volkswagen’s so-called MEB platform, the GM platform is intended to be flexible and multifaceted, with the goal of eventually undergirding a variety of vehicle types and shapes.

The new batteries are unique because of the “large-format, pouch-style cells,” compared to cylindrical cells, which GM says enables them to be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. These batteries will offer power ranging from 50 to 200 kWh, which could allow for a driving range up to “400 miles or more.” Motors designed in-house will support front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and performance all-wheel drive applications.

Steve Fecht for Genreal Motors

GM altered the chemistry of its battery cells, in a move that’s distinct from most EV batteries in production today. The majority of batteries are made with NCM — nickel, cobalt, and magnesium. The Ultium batteries will add aluminum — so NCMA — and reduce the cobalt content by 70 percent. GM has also reduced by about 80 percent the amount of wiring from the EV architecture currently used in its Chevy Bolt vehicles. The hope is that this will drive battery cell costs below the $100/kWh level and allow GM to get more bang for its buck as it scales up its EV production capabilities.

an estimated 400 miles of range

Ultium-powered EVs are designed for Level 2 and DC fast charging, GM says. Most will have 400-volt battery packs and up to 200kW fast-charging capability while the company’s truck platform will have 800-volt battery packs and 350 kW fast-charging capability. GM says it wants to address the two main pain points of EV ownership: cost and charging time.

The event was intended to persuade those on Wall Street who have been jittery about GM’s ability to catch up to Tesla. Elon Musk’s company has soared in valuation, even as the auto industry at large has suffered from rising coronavirus fears. On Tuesday, Tesla’s market cap hovered around $144 billion, more than three times GM’s $45 billion.

The automaker has said it plans to release 20 electric nameplates by 2023 and will publicly unveil three of those vehicles in the months to come: the Cadillac “Lyriq” EV crossover in April and two electric versions of GMC’s Hummer in May. This will be followed “soon after” by the Cruise Origin, a shared, electric, self-driving vehicle developed by Cruise (a majority owned subsidiary of GM) and Honda.

All four GM brands – Chevy, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick – will be launching new EVs. The Cadillac Lyriq will be the first vehicle built on the company’s new BEV3 architecture. Next will be the Hummer EV in both pickup and SUV formats. Also to come are a refreshed Chevy Bolt EV and EUV with a longer wheelbase, a compact Chevy crossover, two Buick SUVs, and a Cadillac sedan called “Celistiq.” All of this is part of GM’s broader plan to spend $20 billion in capital and engineering costs by 2025.

investors have been jittery about GM’s ability to catch up to Tesla

In January, the company said it would spend $2.2 billion to retrofit its Detroit-Hamtramck plant for the production of autonomous and electric vehicles. Workers there recently got a look at some of the vehicles they will be tasked with building, including the Cruise Origin and two versions of GMC’s Hummer, which is being resurrected as an electric pickup. Detroit-Hamtramck will be GM’s first “fully-dedicated” electric vehicle assembly plant.

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.

Of course, all of this needs to be viewed in the larger context of the fight over auto emissions. Though GM has said its goal is “zero emissions,” the company has sided with the Trump administration to do the exact opposite. Along with Fiat Chrysler and Toyota, GM is supportive of the White House’s effort to eliminate California’s stricter emissions rules, arguing that the federal government, and not individual states, should set the requirements. Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW have sided with California in the battle.