Adds Investment, Partnership with Nikola; Uber Sales Push; New BMS System
Speculation about a spin-off of the electric vehicle-battery portion of General Motors into a separate company was muted by three actions this week that not only boosted the EV side of GM’s business, but bolstered the company’s overall standing.
Much as when Toyota and Daimler took early stakes in Tesla and added cash and credibility to that start-up EV maker, GM took an 11 percent ownership stake in Nikola while taking over the engineering and production of the Nikola Badger electric pickup. That latter element signaled a different kind of relationship than the Tesla-Toyota-Daimler one. Nikola, which launched as a fuel-cell big rig-focused company is virtually subcontracting its light-duty pickup project to its new partner.
The Badger, which garnered quite a bit of attention when it was revealed in a computer-generated images in February 2020, has been taking reservations at various levels. According to Nikola founder and executive chairman Trevor Milton, 1,000 reservations at $5,000 each for the launch edition have already been collected along with other reservations at various levels. As of the GM announcement, $100 will now reserve a model. All reservations are refundable. Production is expected to start in 2022 at a yet-to-named GM plant.
The Badger will come in battery electric and fuel cell electric versions with different powertrains and performance characteristics. It’s not clear whether some or all of the technical specifications released by Nikola will be carried through in the production version.
Move to Boost Bolt EV Sales
The same day General Motors also announced a move by the Chevrolet Division to team up with ride-hailing firm Uber to offer drivers special discounted pricing on Chevrolet Bolt EVs. The move is seen as part of the move by Uber (as well as competitor Lyft) to transition to electric vehicles.
Eligible drivers will be able to get GM employee pricing on a new 2020 Bolt and also get a 20 percent below MSRP pricing on Bolt EV accessories, including home charging equipment. The roll-out of the program will start in Los Angeles and Denver. Financing deals will also be available with GM Financial for “well-qualified drivers with Uber Diamond-tier status.”
While the Chevrolet Bolt EV was the first affordable electric car that also offered 200-mile plug range (and has been popular with Clean Fleet Report staff), it has not gained significant traction in the marketplace. For instance, in 2019 it sold fewer models than the significantly more expensive Chevrolet Corvette, although they are obviously aimed at different segments of the market. GM didn’t offer any projections for sales volumes based on the program.
Wireless Battery Management
General Motors announced Wednesday (on Worldwide EV Day) that it has developed a new wireless battery management system that will speed the market launch of new EVs using the Ultium batteries. In addition to GM’s own planned EVs like the GMC Hummer and Cadillac Lyriq, that now includes the Nikola Badger and two announced Honda EVs.
The new system eliminates the need to develop specific communication systems or redesign wiring configurations for each new vehicle, according to GM. The system also reduces weight and expands available space, which can lead to more flexibility for battery placement. Ultium batteries are jointly developed with LG Chem and form a part of the EV platform that will underpin future GM products as well as those from Nikola and Honda.
Back to the Badger
The GM-Nikola deal is fairly typical of 21st century partnerships, similar to the cash/technology exchange of Ford and Rivian announced last year, where Rivian’s technology was to find its way into Ford vehicles and Rivian would gain from the larger company’s manufacturing expertise and supply chain connections. In this case GM is to receive a $2 billion equity stake in Nikola and will use GM’s Ultium battery and Hydrotec fuel cell systems in not only the Badger pickup, but Nikola’s larger trucks.
As explained in the joint press release, “Nikola will exchange $2 billion in newly issued common stock for the in-kind services and access to General Motors’ global safety-tested and validated parts and components.” Nikola expects the relationship to result in savings of more than $4 billion in battery and powertrain costs over 10 years and more than $1 billion in engineering and validation cost savings. GM will receive approximately $4 billion from the shares’ value, contract manufacturing revenue, supply contracts for batteries and fuel cells and EV credits that it will retain.
The Badger is expected to begin production and sale by the end of 2022. Nikola gets a proven automaker to design and build its pickup while GM gets an expanded market for its battery and fuel cell technology. Nikola gets additional validation as a company partnering with a major OEM and GM get the street cred of working with a hot start-up.
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