GM gets serious with $2.2 billion investment in electric trucks, SUVs

After years of talk, General Motors is finally getting serious about building large numbers of electric cars. The largest United States automaker will spend $2.2 billion to retool its Detroit-Hamtramck factory for electric-car production. This will be the first GM factory dedicated to electric cars, with cars scheduled to start rolling off its assembly line in 2021.

GM currently has just one all-electric model in its U.S. lineup — the Chevrolet Bolt EV. That car is built in a factory that also makes gasoline models. GM has said it plans to launch 20 all-electric models globally 2023. While not all of those cars will be sold in the U.S., the plan still requires GM to massively expand manufacturing infrastructure. The investment in the Detroit-Hamtramck plant is the first indication that GM is actually following through with that plan.

The first vehicle to roll out of the revamped factory will be an electric pickup truck, according to a GM press release. GM CEO Mary Barra confirmed the electric truck in 2019, but little is known about it. Recent reports indicate the truck may revive the Hummer brand name, but GM hasn’t confirmed anything. The pickup truck will be followed by the Cruise Origin, GM’s recently unveiled self-driving car. The factory will ultimately produce “a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs,” according to GM.

That will be a major contrast from Detroit-Hamtramck’s current output. The factory currently builds the Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CT6, two slow-selling sedans that GM plans to discontinue. The Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid was also built at Detroit-Hamtramck until it was discontinued in 2019. GM would not discuss production volume, but it did say the number of staff will grow from 900 to 2,200 once the factory is fully converted to electric vehicle production, which contradicts the common assumption that electric cars eliminate jobs because they are less complicated to build than internal-combustion models.

GM said it will renovate the factory’s paint shop, body shop, and general assembly area for electric car production. Batteries will be supplied through a joint venture with LG Chem. The Korean company is investing $2.3 billion in a battery factory in Lordstown, Ohio, that will supplement GM’s current battery factory in Brownstown, Michigan.

If automakers are going to sell more electric cars, they’ll need to build them in greater numbers. Tesla has slowly expanded its production capacity, but has experienced significant growing pains along the way. In 2019, Volkswagen confirmed plans to convert a German factory entirely to electric car production. By 2021, that factory will be churning out 330,000 electric cars a year, according to VW. In 2022, VW plans to begin building electric cars in the U.S. as well. Ford unveiled its Mustang Mach-E electric SUV in November 2019, and plans to build its own electric truck, but hasn’t discussed plans for a dedicated electric vehicle factory.

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