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GM touts battery cost, range breakthroughs

3 min read

DETROIT — General Motors on Wednesday said it plans to spend $20 billion on electric and autonomous vehicle programs in the next five years and expects its battery costs to fall below the level that analysts say would make EVs competitive with internal-combustion vehicles.

GM’s proprietary Ultium batteries will cost less than $100 per kilowatt-hour and allow for a driving range of up to 400 miles on a full charge, GM said. That’s about 50 percent more than the 259-mile range for the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt.

The GMC Hummer EV, expected to go into production in fall 2021, will be the first vehicle to use the new battery technology, GM said. The automaker gave previews of 10 other upcoming EVs to analysts and reporters Wednesday, including a Hummer SUV, a midsize Chevy SUV, a Buick SUV and crossover and three Cadillacs.

“Our team accepted the challenge to transform product development at GM and position our company for an all-electric future,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. “What we have done is build a multibrand, multisegment EV strategy with economies of scale that rival our full-size truck business with much less complexity and even more flexibility.”

Tesla and other automakers have been working to reduce battery costs to less than $100 per kilowatt-hour, which is widely considered the point at which EVs can have price parity with combustion vehicles.

GM says its first generation of a full EV portfolio will be profitable and can be scaled to meet customer demand even if sales significantly top its forecasts. The automaker projects its annual EV sales will reach 1 million in North America and China combined by mid-decade.

“Thousands of GM scientists, engineers and designers are working to execute an historic reinvention of the company,” GM President Mark Reuss said in the company’s statement. “They are on the cusp of delivering a profitable EV business that can satisfy millions of customers.”

GM will design the electric motors in-house. The vehicle systems and propulsion systems are much less complex than traditional internal-combustion powertrain combinations, GM said. The automaker plans 19 different battery and drive-unit configurations to start, compared with 550 internal-combustion powertrain options available today.

The Ultium batteries have 60 percent more power than the batteries in the current Bolt, GM said. They have large-format, stackable pouch-style cells for more flexibility and optimal battery energy storage.

GM is nowhere near the bottom of the battery-cost curve, engineer Andy Oury said.

The automaker aims to manufacture the batteries through its $2.3 billion joint venture with LG Chem in Ohio and could license the technology to other companies.

The Ohio battery plant will have an annual capacity of more than 30 gigawatt-hours, making it among the largest in the world, with potential for expansion, GM has said.

The automaker has said it plans to build 20 EVs globally by 2023 and is converting its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant that was slated for closure into an EV manufacturing hub with a $3 billion investment.

GM said an updated version of the Bolt will reach Chevy dealerships in late 2020. A utility variant the automaker is calling the 2022 Bolt EUV will follow in summer 2021. Both Bolts will use GM’s existing battery technology.

The Ultium batteries will be used in the Cruise Origin, an autonomous vehicle GM showed in January, and the Cadillac Lyriq, an electric utility the automaker said it will reveal in April. GM plans to unveil the Ultium-powered Hummer EV in May.

The Lyriq is part of GM’s effort to have Cadillac lead its charge into EVs. The company also said it is planning a large electric Cadillac SUV and a handmade flagship electric sedan called the Cadillac Celestiq.

The Bolt EUV will be the first vehicle outside the Cadillac brand to feature Super Cruise driver-assist technology. GM plans to expand Super Cruise to 22 vehicles by 2023.

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