On a conference call today, General Motors vice president of autonomous and electric vehicle programs provided an update on the status of its new EV development efforts. For obvious reasons, GM hasn’t had much information to share about these vehicles since the announcement of the Ultium battery and propulsion system in early March. While the public reveals of the GMC Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq have been delayed, Morris says that work on these and other programs is continuing at full speed.
“We still want to get as many EVs on the road as quickly as possible and by mid decades we intend to sell a million EVs per year in our two largest markets in North America and with our joint venture partners in China,” said Morris.
The Hummer, Lyriq and Cruise Origin robotaxi are the first models off the new architecture scheduled for production in the second half of 2021 and early 2022. Morris referenced how quickly GM pivoted to manufacturing ventilators and protective equipment during the pandemic and how that has affirmed the company’s ability to execute on its future products.
Like other multinational companies, GM employees had long been accustomed to working remotely even when they were in the office. Anyone working at an automaker is probably already used to taking early morning or late evening conference calls with colleagues and suppliers in Europe and Asia. By working at home full time, they have been able to eliminate the time spent commuting and transiting being meetings in different locations.
Morris emphasized despite the limitations of not being able to access resources in the office, much of the work is proceeding and in addition to the Hummer, Lyriq and Origin, at least one of the 20 planned EVs is actually running ahead of schedule and will likely be pulled ahead.
How long GM will be able to maintain this pace remains unclear. Those programs are still at a stage where engineering and design work comprises much of the effort. Integration prototypes for programs set to launch in 2021 would normally be getting built about this time, roughly a year before production. If those test vehicles aren’t built soon and put through their paces in the near future, it could still lead to some delays in early programs.
Another challenge will be getting the factory prepared. The Detroit Hamtramck assembly plant that is to build the Hummer, Lyriq, Origin and other yet to be announced products ended production of its previous models just prior to the shutdown. Construction work in the factory to retool the assembly lines and install battery pack assembly equipment has been delayed. While some of that lost time can certainly be made up between now and mid-2021, the pandemic could result in delays to pilot and pre-production builds which would be starting in early 2021.
Another challenge facing GM is the automated vehicle program with Cruise. To date, much of the effort at Cruise has focused on robotaxis. However, in the wake of the pandemic, there is likely to be far less interest in robotaxis than delivery vehicles. A recent IBM survey of 14,000 American consumers showed that half planned to reduce or eliminate their use of shared mobility including ride-hailing, car sharing and transit after the pandemic.
“With the pandemic we’re looking at the technical abilities and potentials of different materials and things inside not only Origins, but really all of our cars because you know, we sell a lot of vehicles to the rental companies and so there are considerations for all those,” added Morris. “I frankly just yesterday had quite a long meeting talking about some of those type of technologies and materials and different things so I would answer your question by saying clearly it’s understood that we have to give full consideration to all of those types of design enhancements.”
GM like every other manufacturer is burning through cash at a prodigious rate right now which is part of why everyone is anxious to get back to work. That cash burn is going to force every company to rethink its planned investments over the next several years and pick some priorities. For GM and likely for most automakers, developing and launching EVs that appeal to customers is clearly going to be a top priority.
Morris remains committed to the automated vehicle program but was less specific on the launch timing. GM and Cruise never announced a new target date after revealing the planned 2019 launch of robotaxis was being delayed and that hasn’t changed. Given the current circumstances, GM and Cruise are probably taking a hard look at exactly what kind of services to launch and when. Whatever that ultimately looks like, it probably won’t be until sometime in 2021, delivery services will probably be a bigger part of the picture.