GM's massive pivot to electric cars has officially begun and that's a truly radical move for the huge automaker (GM)


GM EV Reuss

  • GM showcased a fleet of new EVs coming to market in the next few years, with 22 electrified vehicles to arrive by 2023.
  • For a company that sold almost eight million, mostly gas-powered vehicles in 2019, the transformation is epic.
  • CEO Mary Barra has declared that the company’s future is all-electric. President Mark Reuss’ job is to make the zero-emissions vision happen.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Everything you see here is real.”

That was the key message delivered by General Motors’ president Mark Reuss this week, as the largest US automaker showcased a fleet of forthcoming all-electric vehicles and an innovative battery technology at its historic Technical Center near Detroit.

When later asked if he could think of a single vehicle currently in GM’s vast lineup, from compact cars to hulking pickups, that couldn’t be electrified, Reuss was succinct. 

“The answer would have to be no,” he said.

Reuss is GM royalty. His father, Lloyd Reuss, also held the president title. Reuss’ first GM job was as as intern in 1983. He likes to drive Corvettes and drive them fast. He spends as much time in a racing helmet at GM’s Milford Proving Ground and at the world’s most famous tracks as he does in a tailored suit at GM’s headquarters in downtown Detroit.

But his biggest job now is to hone the leading edge of CEO Mary Barra’s drive to make GM into a zero-emissions company. And he isn’t holding back. 

Twenty-two by twenty-three

GM EV Barra

GM plans to introduce 22 electrified vehicles by 2023, with four coming in 2020. And as Barra said at the EV day event on Wednesday, the company intends to use the full might of GM to realize its vision. 

In addition to the cadence of product launches through 2023, the carmaker has formed a joint-venture with South Korea’s LG Chem to build a $2.3 billion battery factory in Ohio. That plant would employ over 1,000 people and crank out what GM is calling “Ultium,” a flexible battery-pack design that uses a highly modular system enabling anywhere from 50 kilowatt-hour to 200 kWh configurations, with maximum EV ranges on a single charge of 400 miles or more.

GM sells more vehicles annually in the US than any other automaker — and delivers even more in China. Most run on gas. But Barra has committed the automaker to what she now frequently terms an “all-electric future.” 

“This is an historic moment for GM,” she said. “We need EVs to make a meaningful impact on zero emissions.”

Some observers are skeptical. GM has focused on alternative propulsion before, exploring biofuels and hydrogen, as well as developing the pioneering EV-1 electric car in the 1990s. But the company was quick to point out this week that its electric pivot has already crossed a critical threshold. As it develops its Ultium technology, it expects to drive battery costs below $100 per kWh, a critical metric, and be able to combine cost-reductions with its already titanic economies of scale to profitably sell EVs in what it labeled the “first cycle” of their commercialization.

“We have to tell our story”

GM Ultium

Thus far, Wall Street hasn’t gotten the message. Since GM’s recovery from a 2009 bankruptcy and an IPO in 2010, the stock underperformed the broader market, even as the company has, in the words of its management, “put points on the board” and posted billions in annual profits while shedding legacy operations that were draining the bottom line.

Tesla, meanwhile, has minted a market capitalization over three times GM’s roughly $50 billion. But while Tesla sold a record number of cars in 2019 — more than 350,000 — GM sold nearly eight million worldwide, and Tesla lost money in 2019, as it has every year of its 16-year existence.

Asked if that situation is frustrating, Reuss said, “It would be frustrating if we didn’t have anything. We have to tell our story.”

He paused, surrounded by a small fleet of new electric vehicles, wearing Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and even Hummer badges.

“GM has never shown this magnitude of change,” he declared.

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