US car maker GM investing heavily in becoming a global EV leader

General Motors has announced an additional $7bn over the next five years to help it become a global leader in EVs and autonomous vehicles. With $27bn now committed, it will significantly increase the number of EVs available from its brands with 30 available by the middle of the decade.

General Motors Chairman and CEO, Mary Barra, made the announcement recently, framing it as fulfilling the need to combat climate change as well as positioning its brands to be ahead of the game. On this latter point, it is investing big not only in vehicles themselves, but also in its 'Ultium' powertrain and batteries.

Barra said: “Climate change is real, and we want to be part of the solution by putting everyone in an electric vehicle. We are transitioning to an all-electric portfolio from a position of strength and we’re focused on growth. We can accelerate our EV plans because we are rapidly building a competitive advantage in batteries, software, vehicle integration, manufacturing and customer experience.”

30 EVs by 2025

By the middle of the decade, GM has committed to having 30 battery electric vehicles available for sale around the world, with some 40 per cent of its US domestic models being BEVs. These will fall under its Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet and Buick brands, with some of GM's existing projects being fast-tracked.

Speeding up development is being made possible by the modularity of the Ultium powertrain system (more below) and lessons learned in development of the Hummer EV. Given that the Hummer was developed in 26 months vs the 50 originally planned, GM has now set this as a benchmark for future EVs.

This faster-paced development applies to an additional 11 vehicles aside from the Hummer, including: three GMC Ultium variants including an electric pickup; four EVs from Chevrolet including a pickup and a compact SUV; and finally, four Cadillacs. Two EVs from Buick will be delivered as per their original schedule.

The first EV from GM to arrive after the Hummer EV will be the Cadillac LYRIQ – the brand's first EV which is taking the shape of a mid-sized SUV. Boasting a range of more than 300 miles and fast charging at up to 150kW, alongside Cadillac luxury, it will arrive in early 2022.

Ultium development continues

GM's Ultium battery system is up there among the best new-generation systems in the world. It is cost-effective, having already knocked 40 per cent off the cost compared to the early generation battery pack used in the Chevrolet Bolt EV – a figure that should hit 60 per cent when the second-generation Ultium packs are released by 2025. By that point, GM also reckons it will have doubled their energy density.

Taking much of that additional $7bn investment, GM's goal with the second-generation Ultium batteries is price parity with petrol and diesel engines. It highlights a four-pronged approach to making this happen:

  • A cell design that is more energy-dense, so less space is dedicated to non-energy producing materials.
  • Efficient manufacturing, which GM is achieving through its Ultium Cells LLC joint venture with LG Chem.
  • Better integration between vehicles and the Ultium battery packs, reducing the required number of cells and modules.
  • A more cost-effective cell chemistry including the first use of lithium metal anodes in a GM battery.

GM reckons that this development will enable its Ultium-based EVs to travel up to 450 miles (US EPA) on a charge – helped by its innovative Super Cruise and Vehicle Intelligence Architecture technologies.

Next year, the company will break ground at an all-new Battery Innovation Lab and Manufacturing Technology Centre built specifically for next-generation Ultium development, so expect progress to be rapid.


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