General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra is fond of saying the automaker is “on a path to an all-electric future,” something she underscored during a virtual CES webinar focusing on not only the automaker’s battery technology but also showing off some of the many battery and autonomous vehicles in development.
Along with models the automaker already has unveiled, like the Chevrolet Bolt EUV and GMC Hummer, several other projects were revealed during the hourlong presentation, including an ultra-luxurious new Cadillac dubbed Celestiq, as well as a flying car concept “designed for the moment when time is of the essence.”
“The key” to just about everything GM has in development is electrification, stressed Barra, who has led a massive shakeup of GM’s traditional approach to the car business since being named CEO in December 2013. Barra recently announced GM will introduce 30 all-electric models by 2025, up from the previous target of 20 by 2023. Meanwhile, spending on EVs and AVs, or autonomous vehicles, will jump to $27 billion by mid-decade.
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The automaker introduced its first long-range all-electric model, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, in 2016 and is set to begin expanding the line-up this year with the stretched Bolt EUV and GMC Hummer pickup. The pace will rapidly accelerate in 2022 when Cadillac’s first battery-electric vehicle, the Lyriq SUV, launches, along with an SUV version of the Hummer and other products.
The Cadillac brand was GM’s first to offer a specific target date, 2030, for going entirely electric, and the new Celestiq will fill a long-opened gap as the luxury division’s new flagship. First shown during a media backgrounder last March as a pure concept exercise, the project was formally confirmed during Tuesday’s CEO keynote.
It’s “a designer’s dream,” said Crystal Windham, Cadillac’s director of interior design. While the Celestiq prototype was shown largely concealed by shadows during the webinar, the version seen by reporters last March bore much in common with the over-the-top Cadillac Sixteen concept of 2003 with what Windham described as “a dramatic presence with a low profile and rear-drive proportions.”
One of the most distinctive features of the Celestiq will be an all-glass roof divided into four quadrants. It will use electroluminescent technology so that each of the exotic sedan’s passengers will be able to change it from transparent to opaque. The instrument panel, meanwhile, will take things a step beyond what is offered in the latest-generation Caddy Escalade, introducing a video screen running pillar to pillar. There will be additional screens for rear seat passengers and additional touchscreens to operate climate and other vehicle controls.
GM officials have been mum about other details but Celestiq will use an all-wheel-drive version of GM’s new Ultium BEV platform and, based on comments made recently by brand boss Steve Carlisle, range of 400 or more miles is likely. Meanwhile, the Ultium platform can deliver up to 1,000 horsepower, though it is not clear if the Cadillac Celestiq will push that high.
During the Barra-led webinar, GM’s battery lab group manager Mei Cai revealed some of the automaker’s plans for the Ultium batteries that will soon start rolling off a new assembly line in Ohio built as part of a joint venture with Korea’s LG Chem.
The new cells will deliver 60% more energy than batteries used in today’s Chevy Bolt and deliver as much as 450 miles per charge, depending upon the vehicle and the size of its pack. They’re also about 40% lower in cost, which would mean something at or below $100 a kilowatt-hour.
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But GM already is working on second-generation Ultium technology which, said Cai, will yield another 40% reduction in price and double the energy capacity – meaning a range of as much as 600 miles per charge. Last March, GM President Mark Reuss also noted a longer-term goal of reducing charging times to as little as 10 minutes.
Lighter, more energy-dense batteries could prove critical for another project GM revealed during the Barra seminar. While just a concept, for now, it suggests the automaker is ready to join competitors like Hyundai, Toyota and Aston Martin in working on flying cars.
The four-rotor prototype, dubbed the VTOL (vertical-take-off-and-landing), is “designed for the moment when time is of the essence and convenience is everything,” said Michael Simcoe, GM’s vice president of global design.
Even fewer details were revealed about the VTOL than about Celestiq, though Simcoe did note the concept would use a 90 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
The flying car would be targeted at Cadillac customers, as would another prototype revealed during the webinar, this one a sort of living room on wheels that adopts the sort of toaster-on-wheels shape that we’re seeing with many driverless vehicle concepts.
GM’s “provides a societal space for a group of friends or family to spend time together on their way to a destination,” said Simcoe. Like Celestiq, it features an all-glass roof, “but encourages eyes to turn inside to focus on one another.”
Among other things, the high-tech cruiser uses biometric sensors to constantly control interior temperature and humidity, as well as lighting and ambient noise levels, and even introduces aromatics to influence the “well-being” of its passengers.
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As with the VTOL flying car, the prototype is envisioned to become part of what Simcoe described as the “Cadillac Halo portfolio.” No details were offered on production plans for either model.