Go Big or Go Home: GM Announces EV Offensive in China

Sales of General Motors vehicles sank 15 percent in 2019 —  the automaker’s second straight year of annual sales pullback in that once-promising market.

Maybe the product was the problem?

That seems to be GM’s thinking. On Wednesday, The General revealed its plan to capture market share in the world’s most populous auto market with a raft of electric vehicles underpinned by its new modular electric vehicle platform, all powered by the company’s low-cobalt Ultium battery technology.

More than 40 percent of new-vehicle launches planned over the next five years will involve fully electric models, the automaker said. China will see a good measure of the $20 billion in EV investment GM has planned by the midpoint of the decade.

It’s not unlike GM’s plan for North America.

And it’s not just emissions-free driving that will tempt buyers in that EV-hungry market. By 2025, GM expects every Cadillac model to offer the brand’s Super Cruise driver-assist system, allowing for some hands-free motoring on China’s many superhighways. Buick and Chevrolet will then pick up the Level 2 torch. GM China boss Julian Blissett claimed in a video presentation that the next version of the system will take vehicles to the front door of their destination, rather than just to the off-ramp.

In addition to GM’s core brands, Chinese joint-venture marques Baojun and Wuling will see a similar electric surge.

“This market is rapidly electrifying. Cadillac is on a path to very heavy electrification. Buick is also going to heavily electrify,” Blissett told Reuters ahead of GM’s Tech Day event in Shanghai.

“The market is changing dramatically. So the concept of standing still in China doesn’t work.”

What form will these vehicles take, you ask? If you’re thinking it’ll be an SUV-heavy affair, you’d be correct. The automaker plans to add small, compact, and large EV utility vehicles, with the latter two sizes seeing a premium offering, in addition to a mainstream model. An electric pickup will also arrive, along with an electric commercial van, and inexpensive hatchback, a luxury sedan, and a shared autonomous vehicle.

The modular makeup of GM’s Ultium batteries and their unique cell chemistry means greater choice in configuration and packaging. GM can stuff a decent amount of range into even a small vehicle, boosting appeal among low-end and high-end shoppers alike. It also gives GM an advantage over rivals like Volkswagen —  or at least a fighting chance.

That said, the new platform and battery tech will only benefit GM’s coffers if it can get so-equipped cars out the door in large numbers.

“Our business is a high engineering cost, high capital cost business, so, without scale, it’s quite difficult to make money. We do need to return to that,” Blisset said.

a version of this article first appeared on TTAC

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