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General Motors Provides an Update on its Plans for a ‘Zero Emissions' Electric Future at CES 2021

General Motors Provides an Update on its Plans for a ‘Zero Emissions' Electric Future at CES 2021

Author: Eric Walz   

With its first new logo in 50 years unveiled last week, U.S. automaker General Motors is getting ready for its electrified future. The automaker is also a regular presenter at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) each year. At this year's virtual CES 2021, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra delivered the opening keynote address with some help from key GM executives.

"We are proud to be a part of the reimagined CES, and to connect with people," Barra said before the automaker shared new details about its electric vehicle technology that will lead the transformation of GM.

Barra highlighted the fact that GM is at an inflection point as an automaker. As the rest of the auto industry moves toward electrification, so will GM. The automaker's goal is to put everyone into an electric vehicle.

The company will introduce 30 new EVs globally from Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac by the end of 2025. In addition, 40% of GM's U.S.-built models will be battery electric vehicles.

One of the first EVs to market will be the GMC HUMMER EV Edition 1. The electric truck will offer an estimated 1,000 horsepower and unprecedented off-road capability. It goes on sale in late 2021. 

"We want this to be the start of a movement, an inflection point in the history of electric vehicles. And the start of a more expansive, inclusive view of an all-electric future," said Deborah Wahl, GM Chief Marketing Officer, who also spoke at today's event along with Barra. 

The switch to electrification is not entirely voluntary on GM's part. GM's market cap dwarfs that of Tesla Inc., which has grown to become the world's most valuable car company with a $800 billion market cap by only producing electric vehicles. So GM as a company is somewhat at a crossroads. 

The automaker can go on producing highly profitable gas guzzling trucks and SUVs and risk being left behind by rival automakers that are developing electric cars and trucks, or the company can electrify most of its lineup.

Although global EV market penetration stands at just 3% globally, Barra believes that this number can change quickly. During her keynote address, Barra said that GM is going all in on an "all electric future", referring to the company's goal of transforming itself into a leader in electric vehicles.

To start, GM is investing billions in EVs, mobility as a service (MaaS) and autonomous driving technology by 2025. It's one of the largest investments from a major automaker.

"At GM, we believe that after one of the most difficult years in recent history, this moment will prove to be an inflection point. We're spending more than $27 billion dollars on our electric and autonomous vehicle programs by 2025, and we feel confident that the emphasis we are placing on a more personalized driving experience will make our future EVs some of the most enjoyable and exciting vehicles we've ever made," said Barra.

GM's Utium Batteries will Power its Future Models

To support the rollout of new electric models, GM is building its own proprietary battery cells. The Utium battery cells will be built at a 3-million square-foot manufacturing facility in Ohio in a joint venture between GM and South Korean battery manufacturer LG Chem. The factory will be able to produce millions of cells for GM, which will use less of the rare Earth metal cobalt. 

GM's latest nickel, cobalt, manganese, aluminum (NCMA) chemistry uses 70% less cobalt. With new battery chemistries under development, GM said its future battery cells will be 60% more energy dense than GM's existing cells, which will give its future EVs ranges topping 500 miles per charge.

Another important design of GM Utium batteries is that they what's called "pouch cell" batteries, which are flat instead of cylindrical like the ones used by Tesla. The flat pouch cell batteries resemble an envelope and can be stacked on top of each other in a battery module with little wasted space between them. This allows more cells to fit in a vehicle's battery pack, which translates into longer range and more power.

The Utium batteries will also support fast charging, delivering around 90 miles of range in just 10 minutes for many of GM's new EVs.

2022-GMC-HUMMER-EV-Ultium-052-inside-ultium.jpg

GM's Utium battery pack will power many new electric models.

GM's new EV platform was revealed in March 2020. It will serve as the foundation for GM's electrification strategy and underpin many new battery-powered models. The skateboard platform integrates the battery cells, modules and pack, plus the integrated drive units containing electric motors and power electronics. 

The dedicated EV architecture was developed with a common set of components that can be shared by many electric models under development. Certain vehicles built from the platform will offer battery energy storage options from 50 to more than 200 kWh and driving range of up to 450 miles on a full charge, GM said.

GM's Utium EV architecture is highly configurable. It can contain 6, 8, 10 or up to 20 battery modules depending on application. The Ultium EV platform supports front, rear or all-wheel-drive vehicle setups. 

Future GM Vehicles Will Support OTA Updates

GM future electric vehicles will offer internet connectivity and OTA software updates, like Tesla. The vehicles will include an all-digital electric architecture that can support 4.5 TBs of data transfer per hour to and from the vehicle. This connected technology will be integrated into every new GM vehicle by 2023.

Travis Hester, GM's Chief Electric Vehicle Officer, who also spoke at today's keynote, offered a look into the ownership experience that GM will offer its customers.

Hester said that GM wants to make owning an electric vehicle as convenient as possible, with simple charging and an app-based connectivity for all of GM's future electric models. GM's is calling it EV customer experience "Ultifi." 

The Ultifi customer experience platform will be a single point to manage a GM vehicle. The app will support services such as charging and vehicle software updates. Each GM nameplate will have a dedicated companion app.

The apps are appropriately named, "My GMC", "My Buick, "My Chevrolet" and "My Cadillac". The apps serve as a remote control for the vehicle, which keeps owners connected to their vehicles to check such things as battery charge level or charging status remotely. 

The vehicle apps will also feature a unique family share feature that allows an owner to share their GM vehicle with up to 7 family members.

Although GM said that most of the OTA software updates will be free to improve a vehicle's performance, the automaker is planning to offer premium OTA updates for an additional charge, a service model pioneered by rival Tesla. This can be software that provides additional infotainment connectivity options, such as streaming services, as well as other third party apps that can run on GM vehicles.

GM also said that its bringing its Super Cruise automated driving feature to 22 vehicles by 2023, including the upcoming Bolt EUV. The automaker said the Bolt EUV will be the first fully-electric GM model to offer Super Cruise.

To help support GM's rollout of new EVs, the automaker debuted a new marketing campaign called "Everybody In". The campaign is meant to reflect a movement toward electrification that's inclusive and accessible to all. 

GM transformation will help the company deliver on its vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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