Across the Pond
Flashy and dramatic, GM’s new EV strategy could ultimately prove very risky, says Evans…
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. ★