GM Races Tesla to 200-mile "Affordable" EV With Battery Lab Expansion
September 17, 2013 2:26 PM
Volt is the top PHEV seller; GM is the global king of vehicle sales
Riding high on its best sales in 7 years, General Motors Comp. (
) is investing deeply into research and development. The company is striving to deliver on its promise to put 500,000 hybrids, plug-in hybrids electric vehicle (PHEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) on the road by 2017.
I. GM Guns for 200 Mile EV
Doug Parks, VP of global product development at GM, on Monday reiterated GM's march promise to deliver an electrified vehicle that could travel
200 miles on a charge
. Moreover it wants to sell that car at $30,000 USD.
GM didn't clarify whether this figure included the $7,500 USD subsidy EVs currently obtain. It also didn't mention what year it was hoping to release this in-development vehicle in, what form factor it would fall in (e.g. sedan or subcompact), and whether it would be all electric (although given the range, this seems a likely possibility).
GM unveiled an expansion to its battery testing lab in Mich. this week. [Image Source: GM]
Still any way you slice it this would be a huge leap forward for GM; such an EV would have the potential to win over even some hardened critics.
Tom Libby, lead North American analyst for the Polk automotive research firm told the
, "That would be a huge step forward, no question."
II. World's Top Automaker is Seeing Record Sales
It's an ambitious goal for a company who still has the ugly image of
its 2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy
in its rear view mirror. Today, the U.S. government -- which took a 61 percent stake in GM in exchange for
wiping out its outstanding debt
and helping to
reorganize it into a leaner company
-- still holds 19 percent of the resulting firm, having sold roughly two thirds of its stock
in a 2010 IPO
and subsequent stock sales. GM in 2008, 2009, and 2010 was the world's second best selling automaker, but since 2011 has taken hold of first place in sales.
GM is currently the top-selling automaker in the U.S., and posted terrific sales for the month of August 2013,
selling 275,847 vehicles
. GM posted an impressive 14.7 percent sales growth although
second place Toyota
Motor Corp. (
and Nissan Motor Comp.
, Ltd. (
) posted even bigger percentage growths on a year-to-year basis.
The Chevrolet Volt is the world's top selling PHEV. [Image Source: GM]
On a year-to-year basis as of June 2013 GM sold
4.85 million vehicles
overseas and 1.64 million vehicles in the U.S. GM EVs --
the Chevy Volt sedan
and Chevy Spark EV subcompact sold 24,467 units -- or roughly half a percent of global sales (~0.5 percent).
The Volt debuted in concept vehicle form back at the January 2007 North American International Auto Show and continued to roll towards the market in following years, surviving GM's bankruptcy, and
hitting the streets in pre-production form
in 2009. In Dec. 2010 the 2011 Chevy Volt -- which features
a battery pack assembled at a factory in Michigan
officially went on sale
, with a range of 38 miles on battery (after which the gasoline engine takes over).
Despite the Volt's promise it's been a bit of a bumpy ride since 2010.
III. Volt has Turned the Corner Sales-Wise, But Struggles With Losses
In late 2011 the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA), a sub-agency of the
U.S. Department of Transportation
(DoT) launched an investigation into
fires with the Chevy Volt's lithium-ion battery pack
. GM was subsequently
forced to testify before Congress
about the potential fire risks. A combination of factors -- the vehicle's slightly high price point, concerns about its electric range, and the fire controversy -- culminated in
weak sales throughout 2011 and much of 2012
Volt sales are up on a year-to-year basis, but GM continues to struggle with production costs. [Image Source: GM]
Since then sales have risen. By June 2013 GM had achieve year-to-year sales of 24,400+ units. But as much as bad sales were a blow to GM's brand image, stronger sales of the flagship EV were bad news for GM's pocketbook.
Where as Tesla Motor Inc. (
has achieved profitability
on its electric vehicles by selling them at
much higher price points to the luxury sports car market
, GM has admitted in the past to swallowing an undisclosed loss on every Chevy Volt it sells. The 2011 and 2012 Chevy Volt model years were priced at $39,999 -- or $32,249 USD after the $7,500 USD government tax credit. Tesla's current all-electric Model S starts at $71,000 -- nearly twice the price of the Volt -- but delivers an industry-leading 265 miles on a charge.
While August's price from $40K
down to $35K USD ($27.5K USD after tax credit)
cut drove sales up to
a record 3,351 units
for the month, they also mean GM is losing $5,000 more on each vehicle. Tesla meanwhile is
shipping roughly 2,000 Model S units a month
, while making a profit on every one (Tesla predicts selling
20,000 Model S luxury sedans in 2013
GM's only all electric -- the 2013 Spark EV --
went on sale in June
a range of 82 miles
. Partially due to a very limited release it sold only 27 units (reportedly) that month, and July sales weren't much better at 103 units [
]. The subcompact features
and is priced at an aggressive $32, 495 USD ($24,995 USD after the tax credit).
The Spark EV has sold poorly.
Still that's more expensive than Nissan's LEAF S EV, which
retails for $28,800 USD
($21,300 USD after tax rebate). The LEAF
has seen rampant demand
since its price cut last January (a $6,000 cut from the original price of $35,200 USD).
The 2013 LEAF
has a slightly worse range at an EPA estimate 75 miles.
Nissan Leaf sales have soared since a price cut. [Image Source: Nissan]
To GM's credit its Volt sales do look especially impressive when compared to Toyota's
2012 Prius Plug-in
sales of 12,750 units. Toyota plans to launch
a next generation Prius hybrid and Prius PHEV in 2015
The Prius PHEV has been unable to keep up with the Volt in sales. [Image Source: response.jp]
Toyota's plug-in retails for $32,000 USD -- $3,000 USD cheaper than the Volt -- but gets a much weaker 11 mile range (less than a third the Volt's range) in EV mode. Buyers clearly are mixed on this tradeoff.
IV. Tesla v. GM -- the Race is On
In order to reach its goal of an affordable 200 mile EV, GM is aggressively pursuing battery development.
an additional 50,000 square feet to the previously 35,000 square foot Global Battery Systems Lab at its technical center in Warren, Mich. Doug Parks remarks:
In the past four years, the competitive landscape in the electrification space has grown exponentially. This has required us to raise our game and draw a new line in the sand. To maintain our battery leadership, this additional real estate is filled with new capability that will help us improve speed to market for our next generation of battery systems and help us improve the value equation to our customers around the world.
The expansion nearly doubles the pack testing sites at the facility. [Image Source: GM]
GM's efforts are already starting to pay off. It bumped its Chevy Volt's range by 3 miles in 2013 solely by battery improvements. The new facilities nearly double GM's full pack test channels from 64 to 112, while cell level channels are bumped from 96 to 120 units.
The world's biggest automaker will have to move fast, though. Tesla is also eyeing its first try at an affordable mass-market EV. Tesla in May promised
a sub-$40,000 USD EV in 3 to 4 years
with a range identical to GM's proposed one -- 200 miles.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also pledged affordable 200 mi. EVs. [Image Source: Sparked Minds]
Tesla's iconic CEO Elon Musk recently commented to the press, "With the Model S, you have a compelling car that’s too expensive for most people. And you have the Leaf, which is cheap, but it’s not great. What the world really needs is a great, affordable electric car. I’m not going to let anything go, no matter what people offer, until I complete that mission."
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