Electric Hummer, hmm? GM eyeing EV pickup trucks and SUVs

Despite challenges, US auto manufacturer plans new lines of big, chargeable high-end vehicles to seize market share.

    Electric SUVs, pickup trucks and vans appear likely to begin filling up roads in the United States during the next decade [Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images]
    Electric SUVs, pickup trucks and vans appear likely to begin filling up roads in the United States during the next decade [Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images]

    If you've been hungry for a Hummer, its revival - complete with a huge battery that is chargeable with a cord and plug - might be coming soon to a car dealer near you.

    The General Motors Company is planning to build a new family of premium electric pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant in the United States beginning in late 2021, sources told the Reuters news agency.

    The BT1 electric truck, van and SUV programme is the centrepiece of a planned $3bn investment in that facility - part of a broader $7.7bn investment in GM's US plants over the next four years, according to a proposed labour deal between the automaker and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

    The investments were made public by the UAW on Friday with few details, but would pivot the automaker into a part of the electric-vehicle market that is largely untested and where GM has a higher likelihood of turning a profit.

    "It makes perfect sense to hit the high end of the market in order to generate some revenue that might actually turn a profit," said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions.

    GM is mirroring the approach taken by electric carmaker Tesla Inc in starting with high-end vehicles and then moving down the price ladder, he said.

    That is important for a company that previously tried to sell the plug-in electric hybrid Chevrolet Volt and all-electric Bolt cars at lower prices and higher volumes - but failed to sell enough to make those efforts profitable, Fiorani said.

    The UAW's 48,000 GM hourly workers are scheduled to vote next week on the proposed contract that would end a month-long strike that analysts say has cost the top US automaker about $2bn.

    'Marketing is already paid for'

    GM's BT1 programme includes an electric pickup for the GMC brand and an electric SUV for Cadillac, both slated for 2023, sources told Reuters.

    Even before then, GM plans to begin low-volume production in late 2021 of the first BT1 model, a pickup, under a different brand. A high-performance variant of the pickup will be added to that brand in 2022, followed by an electric SUV in 2023.

    One of the sources said the reincarnation of the Hummer name is "under consideration", but a decision has not been finalised. The pickup is code-named "Project O".

    Bringing back the Hummer would take advantage of strong brand equity, Fiorani said. Hummers were rugged civilian utility vehicles made by GM that had low gas mileage, were inspired by military vehicles and were popular with such celebrities as actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former basketball star Dennis Rodman.

    "Putting a Hummer badge on anything is a great idea for General Motors because half the marketing is already paid for," he said. "Making it environmentally friendly is just icing on the cake."

    The pickups and SUVs in the BT1 family will use a new dedicated electric vehicle architecture, including a "skateboard" chassis that bundles the electric motor and batteries, the sources said.

    Fiorani expects the GM electric truck to sell at around $90,000, while the other vehicles will easily top $100,000.

    GM President Mark Reuss said in June at a UBS conference that the new electric-vehicle architecture will be highly flexible, enabling the Detroit automaker to build a variety of body types in different sizes - with the capability of providing front-, rear- or all-wheel drive models.

    When the plant reaches full production in 2024, it is expected to build about 80,000 electric vehicles a year.

    'Making great progress'

    As part of its plans around electric vehicles, GM plans to open a battery plant near its closed Lordstown, Ohio factory that may be a joint venture - part of a $1.3bn investment in non-GM plants in the US over the next four years.

    GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said in April the automaker would make an electric full-sized pickup, but provided no further details. The company has said it plans to invest $8bn to develop electric and self-driving vehicles, launching 20 new electric vehicles globally by 2023.

    Stating simply that the company is committed to an electric future, GM spokesperson Jordana Strosberg would not comment on the specifics.

    "GM believes in an all-electric future and we are making great progress in that area," she said. "We have announced that a pickup truck will be part of our future portfolio, but have no additional information to provide."

    GM is aiming to be one of the first in what is soon to be a crowded market for electric trucks and SUVs.

    Well-funded Michigan startup Rivian has announced plans to build an electric pickup - a premium version of which will top $90,000 - followed by an electric SUV, beginning in fall 2020.

    It also has a contract with investor Amazon.com Inc to build up to 100,000 electric delivery vans for the e-commerce giant.

    GM previously held discussions about investing in Rivian and using its electric vehicle platform, but sped up its internal electric-vehicle programme when the startup turned to rival Ford Motor Co.

    Ford invested $500m in Rivian in April and said it planned to use Rivian's "skateboard" to build a new Ford-branded electric vehicle.

    GM's competitor also plans to unveil an electric version of its own F-series pickup in early-to-mid 2022. The company will begin selling a Mustang-inspired electric SUV next year as part of its plan to invest $11.5bn electrifying its vehicles by 2022, including adding 16 fully electric models.

    Electric pickups and SUVs - the bread and butter of the US market - could help both Ford and GM generate the sales of electric vehicles they will need to meet tougher emissions standards and electric vehicle mandates in California and other states.

    Although the administration of US President Donald Trump is moving to roll back those standards - and eliminate extra credits that automakers receive from EV sales - the electric trucks are a hedge if California prevails.

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said his company wants to add a pickup to its growing family of premium electric vehicles, but has not provided a timetable. Tesla is expected to unveil a prototype this year, with analysts predicting a 2022 debut.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency