Even with low gasoline price, General Motors Co. will continue to concentrate on the development of electric vehicles as it ramps up operations in the wake of the pandemic lockdown.
“We understand the seriousness of the business actions we have taken,” GM Chairman Mary Barra said during a conference call with analysts after reporting its first quarter financial results, featuring an 86% drop in net income.
Just like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, GM expects to resume operations at its North American plants the week beginning May 18 in what was described as a “gradual” step up in production. GM plants have been shuttered since the middle of March when the company was forced to close as the lethal pandemic created by COVID-19 increased in intensity.
Barra emphasized GM adopted new safety procedures in all of its plants to prevent the virus from taking hold in the months ahead. She noted the procedures worked in China and South Korea and in GM warehouses and plants making medical supplies in the U.S., such as the one in Kokomo, Indiana, visited last week by Vice President Mike Pence.
The procedures have been assembled with the assistance of the United Auto Workers union, which is calling for more testing of employees on the jobs. “As we stated yesterday in regard to FCA, the UAW has and continues to have dialogue with all of our employers and employment sectors about the safety and security surrounding reopening worksites,” said UAW President Rory Gamble.
“We continue to advocate for as much testing as possible at the current time and eventually full testing when available” he added.
As GM ramps up its operations, it will emphasize production of full-size sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks. The market share commanded by pickup trucks has climbed steadily this year, reaching the point where one in every five vehicles sold in the U.S. last month was a truck. Inventories of trucks are low, and GM is preparing to protect its truck franchise, Barra said.
Barra noted that as GM began to trim costs in the face of the pandemic, it continued its short-term investment to bring new full-size SUVs to the market.
However, GM also took steps to protect its electric vehicle projects, which have been spared during the cost cutting initiatives that began this past winter.
Even though the price of gasoline has dropped, GM does not intend to pull back from its all-out commitment to electric vehicles, which it demonstrated during an event in early March just prior to the lockdowns triggered by the pandemic, Barra said.
“We will continue to do that because that’s what we think is the right thing to do for the future,” said Barra, adding GM plans to build two EVs with Honda and plans to participate fully in China’s efforts to develop fleets of electric vehicles.
Barra also said GM has been careful to survey the financial health of its suppliers as it prepares to resume production to make the various companies feeding parts to GM can meet demand.