But Deals with Fire Issues in Bolt EV
General Motors offered more detail about its pathway to become an EV-centric company this week, while it also dealt with battery fire issues from its first high-volume electric car, the Chevrolet Bolt. The company said will launch 30 new EVs globally while spending more than $27 billion during the next five years. While the future holds promise, the company issued a recall for more than 50,000 2017-19 Bolts because the battery under the car’s back seat could catch fire.
GM’s investment and product plans were announced at an automotive investment conference by GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. The goal is clearly to position General Motors as one of the world’s carmakers leading the way in building a broad portfolio of electric vehicles and mastering the supply chain for such vehicles through its Ultium platform and battery packs.
Part of the investment, which is a 35 percent increase from earlier expenditure announcements, is going toward accelerating the product development cycle to get vehicles to market more quickly than in the past. The GMC Hummer EV, which will go from concept to market in 26 months, is seen as the benchmark for future vehicle development. That’s almost half the typical time GM currently takes to launch a new vehicle.
Barra gave some hints about GM’s coming vehicles:
- The Hummer will be the first to market, arriving in late 2021.
- The Cadillac Lyriq crossover will arrive in the first quarter of 2022.
- The GMC brand will get three other variants, including a pickup.
- Four Chevrolets will also be introduced, including a pickup and a compact crossover.
- Cadillac will get four additional models
- Buick Division will get two EVs.
It’s expected that many of those 30 new EVs will be China-only products since that is the world’s largest EV market, although GM made a point of saying 20 will be available in the North American market. The company’s goal is to be producing one million EVS by mid-decade.
These plans are built around the Ultium platform announced earlier with its modular application of flexible battery pack configurations produced in partnership with LG Chem. The Ultium platform will underpin the flurry of new vehicles.
With volume and battery advances that are already in the works, GM expects to see battery costs continue to drop while energy density increases, producing 400-plus mile ranges in some models and allowing cost-parity with internal combustion engine vehicles by the mid-decade mark.
Meanwhile, the Bolt Battery Issue
While the EV future looks bright, GM has some on-the-ground issues with its current electric car, the Chevrolet Bolt. Warning that the batteries could catch fire even if the car was turned off. Five fires have been reported with two injuries. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended that affected Bolt owners not park their cars in a garage and not fully charge them, as the issue with the battery appears to be accentuated when the cars are charged to full, or very close to full, capacity.
NHTSA’s notice said: “The affected vehicles’ cell packs have the potential to smoke and ignite internally, which could spread to the rest of the vehicle and cause a structure fire if parked inside a garage or near a house.” GM’s own notice to Bolt owners asked owners to charge their vehicles to no more than 90 percent charge while the company and NHTSA attempt to find a remedy for the issue. In the interim Bolt owners were asked to visit a Chevrolet dealership and have the vehicle’s battery software updated to limit the maximum state of charge. No date was given as to when a solution is expected.
The EV Leadership Battle
Back to GM’s big announcement, the move appears to be part of what is shaping up to be a fierce battle to supremacy in the expanding EV portion of the auto industry. “We are all-in to establish leadership in electric vehicles,” Barra told the conference. “EVs are core to growing out business and creating shareholder value.”
The presumption is that the company that comes out on top will reap rewards both in the vehicle market and with investors. Currently, Tesla holds the crown—and has been reaping those rewards in the stock market. It’s on track to produce as many as 500,000 EVs this year and has two new plants under construction to further boost production as it expands beyond its present four-vehicle lineup.
Volkswagen, a traditional auto company roughly comparable to GM in size, has also staked a claim to be the big dog in the EV market, launching the Golf-size ID.3 in Europe and the ID.4 crossover in the U.S. and China as well as Europe. The ID.4 was originally supposed to start deliveries this year, but now appears to be headed to a consumer launch early next year. VW Group’s Audi already has its E-Tron on the market and is adding to that product line as well.
Not to be outdone, Ford is launching the Mach-E electric crossover this year and will follow with an electric version of its best-selling F-150 pickup. Virtually every other automaker, both existing manufacturers and newcomers, has electric products due soon or in the pipeline, so the market will get competitive and quite interesting very soon.
GM intends to be a contender and, from what we’ve seen of the coming products (the GMC Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq), there’s no reason to think they won’t be. The EV battle looks like it will be a big new front in the ongoing battles of the automotive market.