Electric Uprising: GM—Transforming an industry
Part 2 of a story in five parts about the transition to electric vehicles
“Society is at the cusp of once-in-a-lifetime change in mode of personal transportation,” says Vinod Kumar, MBA ’08, a quality engineer for General Motors.
GM has announced it will invest $35 billion in EVs and autonomous vehicles (AVs) through 2025 in pursuit of its all-electric and autonomous future. “We are investing billions of dollars to retrofit existing plants like Factory ZERO [in Michigan] and Spring Hill Assembly [in Tennessee] to build EVs, collaborating with LG Energy Solution on all-new battery cell manufacturing plants,” Kumar says.
By the end of 2025, GM will have launched more than 30 all-new EV models, two-thirds of which will be sold in the U.S. “GM wants to put everyone in an EV,” Kumar says.
Envisioning an all-electric future
Through more than a decade of experience in both the engineering and the commercial arms of GM across a range of roles, Kumar has a more informed notion than most of what the electric future will look like.
“I’m imagining an increasing cascade of changes with time,” Kumar says. “Besides zeroing out emissions, there will be opportunities to re-write the transportation playbook. Emissions-free autonomous electric vehicles have the potential to free up drivers’ time, avoid crashes by maintaining distance and re-route themselves to less congested roads. From this, in my view, could emerge a demand-driven, 24/7 public or private transportation system with flexible routes. It will complement existing public transport systems and solve the last-mile problem with a door-to-door solution.”
But where does this all begin? Kumar says the success of EVs will come down to advances in battery technology—and that’s what the big car makers are banking on.
Optimizing the Ultium lithium-ion battery
“Lower cost li-ion battery cells with better range are perhaps the biggest factor in making EVs more viable,” Kumar says. “Our Ultium batteries, which are launching on the GMC HUMMER EV and Cadillac LYRIQ in coming months, will be 40 percent more affordable than today’s batteries. We’re anticipating that our next-generation of Ultium batteries, due out later this decade, will be even more affordable and energy-dense.”
Kumar was working on fuel cell development for GM when the firm introduced its first mass-market plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, in 2010. Envisaged as the American answer to Toyota’s popular Prius, the Volt went on to become the all-time bestselling plug-in hybrid in the U.S. It would be the car that would help revitalize the American auto industry following the 2008 financial crash, through a period of sky-high fuel prices and a need for more efficient, affordable cars.
To keep the battery small and prices down, the original Volt had an all-electric range of 40 miles, based on research that showed most commuters in the U.S. travelled 40 miles or less each day. A gasoline engine would take the car several hundred miles further, once the all-electric range, which eventually reached more than 50 miles, had been exhausted.
In 2019, conditions had changed: While gasoline was now cheap once again, with the success of all-electric upstarts like Tesla it was also becoming clear that the future lay with the pure electric vehicle.
GM ended production of the Volt and embarked on a new chapter of innovation and EVs.
Electric uprising: A story in five parts about the transition to electric vehicles
Learn more about the transition to EVs in other stories in this series: