US automotive giant General Motors has offered the chance to build an electric pickup (or, ute) at its Detroit plant as part of a $US7 billion ($A10.2 billion) deal including advanced battery systems to quell striking US auto workers.
The news comes as 48,000 members of United Auto Workers continue to strike while the carmaker negotiates with the union on contractual agreements.
There has been little official comment from the carmaker but it is known the the offer to build an electric pick-up – which was first touted in May by GM CEO Mary Barra – at the carmaker’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant would see the first electric ute from the carmaker go into production as early as 2021.
In the US – as in Australia – electric vehicles have held a reputation for being dinky, not able to drive very far and not very powerful. And while carmakers like Tesla have been helping to blow that misconception out of the water, in markets where large utes like the Ford Range and Toyota Hilux reign supreme, is remains hard to shake.
Ridiculous campaigns such as that by Australia’s Coalition party in the lead up to May’s federal election still push claims that EVs will “ruin the weekend” and leave tradies without a reliable utility vehicle.
GM abandoned its attempts to force a loosening of fuel emissions standards in the US in 2018, doing a u-turn in November saying it would commit to an electric future but that it would involve shutting five factories including Detroit, Ohio and Ontario Canada, and cut 15% of staff to ensure the financial viability of the company’s place in an electric future.
That included halting production of the car maker’s plug-in hybrid Volt, sales of which had declined in the face the growing popularity of the all-electric Bolt.
What GM’s shift to electric mobility would entail, exactly, has been somewhat unclear – although Barra did say in May that the company intends “to create an all-electric future that includes a complete range of EVs, including full-size pickups.”
However so far the main re-channelling of investment for electric vehicle development and production has been $US300 million ($A438 million) to fund an upgrade of its Michigan plant at which it says it will make a new electric car with a Chevrolet badge, using the Bolt drivetrain.
What form the new electric ute will take is not yet known, nor what badge it would be made under. The Detroit plant is currently slated to close in early 2020 but until then it is continuing to pump out the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala sedans, pending the outcome of the UAW talks.
But sedans in general have seen their heyday in both Australia and the US and are now being taken over by SUVs and pickups/utes in terms of popularity and sales volume.
In Australia, GM’s most popular ute sold is the diesel-powered Holden Colorado which came in as the 15th most popular vehicle in September 2019 sales according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
Badged as a Chevrolet Colorado in the US, it is made for domestic markets in Wentzville, Missouri while for Australia and New Zealand markets it is made in Rayong, Thailand.
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model Y and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.