The American car-maker that famously killed the electric car has just bet a huge part of its remaining farm on reviving it and relying on it.
Fresh from skewering Holden, General Motors this week announced a massive raft of new electric vehicle (EV) technologies and products, including compact cars, premium SUVs, fast cars and a second-generation Bolt crossover for next year.
But during its big EV Day yesterday, GM released series of teaser videos, one of which showed a number of different silhouettes on its new Ultium modular EV architecture.
These included what appear to be hatch, sedan, truck, van and coupe body style derivatives – and the latter looked to have a distinctly Camaro-style profile.
This has led to speculation that GM could well be plotting an all-electric Camaro – or at least an EV that leverages the Camaro name, just as Ford is doing with its Mustang Mach-E.
This is significant not only because a battery-powered version of Chevrolet’s iconic V8 muscle car would be a dramatic departure from tradition, but because the Camaro itself is reportedly being killed off with the current generation in 2023 due to slowing sales.
Whether GM has changed its mind and decided to reincarnate the Camaro as an EV is unclear. But in the meantime, HSV should continue to make hay while the existing Camaro shines under the new GMSV banner in Australia.
GM says its modular EV platform can be formatted into 19 different battery and powertrain configurations.
Its latest-generation pouch-cell Nickel Cobalt Manganese Aluminium (NCMN) battery packs will range from 50kWh to 200kWh, while they will employ either 400 or 800 volts.
It will allow 160km of range in just 10 minutes of charging, thanks to DC fast-charging technologies and it demonstrates its flexibility by being compatible with both pouch and prismatic cells, and it can even stack the cells in different ways or run different battery chemistries in different modules.
The new architecture will sit beneath the reborn Hummer brand’s three SUVs, the compact Bolt and the new Cadillac Lyriq SUV, marketed by former Holden executive, Australian Megan Stooke.
The Lyriq will be a mid-sized sedan with a 34-inch wraparound instrument cluster that will become the norm for all future Cadillac models.
Cadillac won’t stop there, though, with an enormous flagship, to rival Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class, called the Celestiq.
Being pushed by GM (and former Holden) President Mark Reuss, the Celestiq will be an ultra-luxury vehicle with Level 4 self-driving capability.
It’s a big switch in philosophy from the carmaker that was the famous subject of a 2006 documentary named Who Killed the Electric Car.
GM took a toe-in-the-water test of electric-car engineering with the 1996 EV1. It built 1117 of the two-door EV coupes, which had 102kW of power and 149Nm of torque and used Nickel-Metal hydride batteries.
GM only leased the cars through what it called a “real-world engineering evaluation” program, though, and when it ended in 2002, they brought all their EV1s home and crushed them.
The decision caused uproar from environmentalists and the lessees as well, and only 40 went to museums – with their powertrains deactivated – and the only fully operational EV1 is in the Smithsonian Institution.
And now GM is back in the EV space, with an Ultium layout that can be swapped to front-, rear- or all-wheel drive and it can morph from budget to luxury cars, making it more flexible even than the Volkswagen Group’s much-touted Modular Electric Matrix (MEB).
This modular architecture, called “Ultium,” will be capable of 19 different battery and drive unit configurations, 400-volt and 800-volt packs with storage ranging from 50 kWh to 200 kWh, and front, rear and all-wheel drive configurations.
GM has been about the last of the major legacy carmakers to show its hand in electrification, with Renault-Nissan, the Volkswagen Group (Volkswagen, Seat, Skoda, Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti), Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ford, PSA (Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and DS), Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Kia all unveiling their strategies up to three years ago.
It will address their shortcomings in China, where its sales were been plummeting even before the Coronovirus devastated the country’s sales, and the US.
It has largely withdrawn from the rest of the world, retreating from Europe when it sold its Opel operation to PSA in 2017 and abandoning Australia this year.
It’s using the modular versatility of the new architecture to drive down its development and production costs, as well as supplier costs, to help it achieve profits in electric cars.
Its new battery system, arrived at via a collaboration with South Korea’s LG Chem, cuts out 80 percent of the original Bolt’s wiring inside the battery pack, and pushes cell costs beneath US$US100/kWh – the holy grail of battery pricing.
The two companies will move away from lithium-ion pouch cells in an effort to reduce their reliance on cobalt, boasting their NCMA batteries will have the lowest cobalt levels of any production pouch batteries.
The cells will be stacked vertically in the Ultium layout, delivering more interior space and better packaging than Tesla’s cylindrical cells.
Both companies claim their new factory will deliver 30 gigaWatt/hours of cells in its initial phase, enough for 300,000 cars and SUVs with an average power storage of 100kW/h.
The Bolt will be the first of the new wave of Ultium GM cars when it arrives this year, followed by an SUV Bolt next year.
The Hummer nameplate will be back in US showrooms next year under the GM brand, then the Lyriq will follow for Cadillac in 2022.
Whether any of these GM EVs – or a 2022 Camaro EV – become available via GMSV in Australia remains unknown at this stage.