General Motors – the US auto giant recently dwarfed by the scale of the Tesla price surge – has decided against shutting own its Detroit assembly plant and instead will funnel $US2.2 billion ($A3.26 billion) to accelerate its push into electric and autonomous vehicles.
GM said the Detroit factory will be used to make its first all-electric ute and an autonomous electric shuttle in what is the legacy carmaker’s largest commitment yet to EVs since it announced a massive restructure in November 2018 that would include shutting down five internal combustion engine (ICE) factories and slashing 15% of staff.
The Detroit-Hamtramck plant in America’s automotive heartland, is due to begin production of an all-electric ute (aka pickup or truck) in late 2021.
It will be followed by the boxy, all-electric and driverless Cruise Origin shuttle revealed last week by GM, as well as a number of other electric ute variants, GM says.
“Through this investment, GM is taking a big step forward in making our vision of an all-electric future a reality,” Mark Reuss, GM president, was quoted as saying at a press event at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant.
“Our electric pickup will be the first of multiple electric truck variants we will build at Detroit-Hamtramck over the next few years.”
The project has the full support of the state of Michigan, and once in full swing, will employ 2,200 staff up from a previous 900 after an initial idle period during which the plant will be renovated draws to a close.
“Today’s announcement builds on a new chapter in Michigan’s automotive manufacturing heritage, proving once again that the vehicles of the future will be built, tested and deployed here in our state,” Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer was quoted as saying at the event.
“We are proud to be here today, supporting GM in bringing 2,200 good-paying manufacturing jobs for our auto workers and getting Hamtramck back online, helping to bring their vision of an all-electric future to life.”
In addition to the $US2.2 billion plant renovation which will include upgrades to paint and body shops as well as the general assembly area, GM is also investing $800 million ($A1.2 billion) into supplier retooling and other related projects.
In March 2019 the automaker committed $US424 million ($A628 million) to make a new Chevrolet electric car based on the Bolt EV architecture at its Orion, Michigan plant. It has also made a previous commitment of $US2.3 billion ($A3.4 billion) towards a joint venture with LG Chem to make EV batteries in Lordstown, Ohio.
The news follows a downturn in sales reported by the automaker for the fourth quarter of 2019 after a 40-day strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW) saw a major dent in its vehicle inventory.
While the Cruise Origin caused a stir when it was revealed last week, there has only been speculation as to the form that the GM electric ute will take.
We first knew an electric ute was planned by GM in May 2019 when GM CEO Mary Barra confirmed the automaker would make electric versions of a wide range of vehicles including a full-sized pickup.
Details are still thin on the ground, however more recently Barra said that it would go on sale in the northern hemisphere fall (autumn) and referred to the planned electric vehicle as “very capable,” it was reported by Reuters.
“General Motors understands truck buyers and … people who are new coming into the truck market. It will be a very capable truck, I’m pretty excited about it.”
According to Carscoops, the same platform to be used for the Cruise Origin will also be used to underpin a number of all-electric SUVs including compact and crossover vehicles for both mainstream and luxury segments.
GM has been easily overtaken in terms of market capitalisation by EV leader Tesla, which last week surged past $US100 billion of market value, making it more valuable than GM and Ford combined, on par with VW and bettered only by Toyota.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.