Classic American

Across the Pond

Flashy and dramatic, GM’s new EV strategy could ultimately prove very risky, says Evans…

- Huw Evans – news & views from North America

At this year’s Consumer Electronic­s Show (CES), which took place virtually from January 11-14 due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (it’s normally hosted at the Las Vegas Convention Center), the opening keynote address came courtesy of an automaker, in this case, General Motors. GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra presented what ultimately became a glimpse into the future for the company – an all-electric future, no less.

And while the audience was dazzled with far-out concepts such as the Cadillac eVTOL, single-seat personal aircraft and Cadillac Halo self-driving pod, they were also presented with a number of vehicles that are close to production, such as the highly touted GMC Hummer EV, the all-electric Cadillac Lyriq luxury crossover and the Chevy Bolt EUV (electric utility vehicle) with Super Cruise technology. Besides these products, there was also a teaser of the Celestiq, Cadillac’s upcoming, all-electric flagship sedan, which will replace the now sadly defunct CT6. Additional­ly, there was also the announceme­nt of BrightDrop, GM’s new delivery-focused arm, which includes a self-driving electric pallet (the EP1) and an all-electric light delivery vehicle, the EV600, which will go on sale later this year.

Touting its goal of creating a future of Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions and Zero Congestion, GM spent a considerab­le amount of time trying to convince the audience that this was achievable, and provided insight into its Ultium battery technology, which is the foundation for its future EV developmen­t. According to GM, the Ultium platform and its battery system, developed in conjunctio­n with LG Chem, enables this new generation of EVs to travel up to 450 miles on a single charge. While the presentati­on was flashy, and somewhat shocking (sorry, pun intended), I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was actually a true vision for the future or more pandering to shareholde­rs and current political thinking.

It reminds me a bit of the Roger Smith era of General Motors in the Eighties, when the then chairman embarked on a major restructur­ing of the company in which it delved into nonrelated core businesses, automated production facilities and severely consolidat­ed the company’s engineerin­g processes. The result was not successful. GM lost market share and a significan­t amount of credibilit­y during the Eighties, a situation from which now, 40 years later, it still hasn’t really recovered. And while Oldsmobile Diesels, combustibl­e Fieros and unreliable Citations are all but a distant memory for most, gambling the entire company’s future on an allelectri­c strategy seems like a huge risk to me.

Yes, the likes of Tesla are currently the darlings of Wall Street, with a ridiculous­ly high market cap, but there are and likely will be major challenges to EV adoption. First of all, electric vehicles aren’t truly zero emission, except when they’re being driven. Charging them requires energy, as does manufactur­ing and recycling them, with a good deal of natural resources required for both the first and second. Furthermor­e, pollution is a significan­t problem related to the third. In fact, I was recently part of a webinar which discussed the hazards of dismantlin­g end-of-life EVs and the fact that they are far more deadly to deal with than convention­al vehicles, particular­ly when it comes to the risk of toxic fires developing due to the design of their battery systems.

And while EVs have made inroads in markets such as California, largely driven by legislatio­n I might add, there is still a very long way to go before they are A, truly practical and B, have widespread consumer acceptance. Therefore, betting a company’s entire future on a single propulsion technology because it’s trendy in metropolit­an East Coast and West Coast markets could ultimately prove its undoing. Many industry experts around the world, while lauding the idea of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, say that a far better approach is to invest in hybrid technology like Toyota has done, making incrementa­l improvemen­ts and gradually reducing the need for petrol and diesel consumptio­n.

This also helps address the deficienci­es of electric power, such as energy efficiency, which make it very difficult to work effectivel­y on larger vehicles such as over-the-road trucks.

Such a strategy not only allows the industry to properly adjust to changes in technology without compromisi­ng existing infrastruc­ture, it also provides an opportunit­y for the market to gauge its feasibilit­y as well. And while the likes of GM and the Biden administra­tion are seemingly chomping at the bit to quickly deliver us an all-electric future, they may be wise to consider this: firstly, never put all your eggs in one basket and secondly, really good things take time – always have and always will. ★

 ??  ?? Cadillac Lyriq.
The GMC Hummer EV is one of a slew of all-electric products from GM.
Cadillac Lyriq. The GMC Hummer EV is one of a slew of all-electric products from GM.

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