General Motors will continue shifting manufacturing sites in the U.S. and abroad from conventional gas and diesel vehicles to all-electric models, its global manufacturing director said Tuesday.
At the same time, the company wants to make sure that its plans for an “all-electric future” take into account the potential impact on GM’s future workforce, its customers and the communities dependent upon the company. To assist in that transition, Chairman and CEO Mary Barra on Tuesday announced the creation of a $25 million “climate-equity-focused philanthropic fund” meant to “complement” the automaker’s planned, $35 billion investment in electric and autonomous vehicles through 2025.
“Climate change does not impact every community equally. As we move to an all-electric, zero-emissions future, it is on us to lead positive change and implement inclusive solutions that bring everyone along, especially our employees and communities,” Barra said during a keynote Q&A session at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Repeatedly upping the ante
GM has repeatedly increased its planned investment in both EV and AV technology, jumping from $20 billion in March 2020 to the current $35 billion figure. In the process, it has increased the number of products that will roll out by mid-decade, while Barra said the company “aspires” to go entirely electric by 2035.
To back up that transition it now has announced plans for five North American EV assembly plants, including the existing facility in Orion Township, Michigan, as well as new plants to start opening this year in Detroit and, later in Spring Hill, Tennessee; Ontario, Canada; and Mexico. It also has expanded from one battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio to four.
During a virtual media roundtable ahead of Barra’s Aspen speed, Global Manufacturing Director Gerald Johnson confirmed that, “We will be converting our sites over from ICE (internal combustion engine) products to EVs” going forward, adding, “We will be converting our propulsion plants over to battery,” as well, in the coming years.
Johnson also noted while the automaker officially will retain “complete neutrality,” it also will be “supportive of the UAW” and its expected drive to organize workers at the all-new assembly plants.”
More battery-electric products coming
In the U.S., GM has so far launched just two long-range all-electric models: the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the larger Bolt EUV. In China it also introduced a compact, medium-range model along with partners SAIC and Wuling. It has announced a handful of additional long-range products, including the GMC Hummer pickup and Hummer SUV, the Cadillac Lyriq, as well as an all-electric pickup for Chevrolet.
The latter models will carry a relatively premium price. One question facing the company will be introducing still other models aimed at the mainstream. “We will have to make EVs that are affordable,” Barra acknowledged during her Aspen Q&A session.
Among other things, that will require “driving energy density up and costs down,” said Barra. But it also will take things like an expanded public charging infrastructure.
“I want to make sure customers choose electric vehicles because they provide an overall better customer experience and they never feel like they’re giving anything up,” she said during a conversation with former American Express Chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault.
More jobs for workers
The transition to EVs will have a significant impact across society. “Our goal, as we make this transition is to bring everyone along,” said Barra as she described GM’s plans to retrain workers.
There has been widespread concern that, since EVs are simpler to assemble, there will be a loss of jobs. “But not if we bring more work to the country,” said Barra.
That is, in fact, one goal the Biden administration has laid out as part of its planned infrastructure investment into EVs. A proposed battery-car investment program now facing the Senate would add an extra $2,500 in tax credits for vehicles assembled in the U.S. It would add yet another $2,500 if union labor were used.
“I’m incredibly encouraged by how the administration is moving forward and looking at EVs as a solution,” said Barra.
But there will be broader challenges. That includes communities dependent upon GM for jobs, as well as those communities in so-called “charging deserts” where access to plugs may be limited. That’s not only in sparsely populated parts of the American heartland, but also in urban areas where housing density limits the ability for future EV buyers to install home chargers.
Those are some of the issues GM hopes to address with the new philanthropic fund that will now begin seeking applicants.
“We want ideas that will come from everywhere,” said Johnson, “to align with this all-EV future.”