CEO Mary Barra: GM is playing a long EV game, and intends to win

GM hasn’t been getting much respect in the EV press lately. Industry bad boy Tesla continues to dominate the market, racking up global sales of more than 310,000 units in the first quarter of this year. Ford’s still a startup as far as EVs are concerned, but its F-150 Lightning has been getting a lot of buzz, and the company claims it has 200,000 reservations.

Meanwhile, poor little GM didn’t even manage to sell 500 EVs in the US in the first quarter. Battery problems forced it to suspend production of the Bolt, and its electric Silverado pickup remains months in the future.

However, in an interview with the New York Times, CEO Mary T. Barra, the daughter of a GM die maker who became the first woman to head a major automaker in 2014, sounded confident that, once her company hits its stride, it will be able to beat its competitors on affordability, and win over mainstream car buyers. As EV sales grow, GM expects to leverage cost advantages and to challenge Tesla before the end of the decade.

“That’s the long game we are playing,” Ms. Barra told the Times. “And I’m here to win.”

At the heart of GM’s strategy is its Ultium battery pack, which features a modular design that allows it to be used in any GM vehicle, from a cute compact to a ponderous pickup. GM has estimated that the Ultium design will cut battery pack costs by 30 percent.

The company is working on no less than seven battery plants. The first, a joint venture with LG in Lordstown, Ohio, is supposed to start producing Ultium packs later this year. All seven are to be online by 2025, and GM hopes to be producing a million EVs per year in North America by 2026.

Barra noted that most EVs being sold in the US are luxury models, and tend to be bought by people who own at least two vehicles. (For that matter, so are GM’s current offerings, the Cadillac Lyriq luxury SUV and the embarrassing GMC Hummer.)

“If you want EVs to get to 100 percent or even 50 percent of the market, there have to be affordable EVs,” says Barra. “You’ve got to provide entry models in that space.”

Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Guidehouse Insights, told the Times that GM’s strategy should “in theory” deliver cost advantages, but questioned how significant, and how long-lasting, GM’s edge would prove to be. Ford is working on its own modular battery design and battery plants, although it appears to lag GM in those departments. Of course, Tesla has been assembling its own packs for years, and has achieved significant economies of scale.

Ms. Barra told the Times she’s confident that GM is on the right path, and she understands the need for speed. “Do I wish the electric Silverado launch was coming sooner?” she mused. “Sure. I drive the organization crazy because I’m constantly challenging [them] on how can we go faster. Every time I go to design and see a vehicle they’re working on, I’m like, ‘How fast can we get that out?’”

Source: New York Times