General Motors Co. (GM) has become the first auto giant to put a timeline for ending its fossil fuel vehicles and set a target for moving to full electrification by 2035. It sold 2.55 million vehicles in the US in 2020, out of which nearly 20,000 units were of electric vehicles (EVs), accounted for a very tiny sales share.
Nearly 98% of the GM vehicle portfolio consists of vehicles which use internal combustion engines, implying they emit pollution. GM previously maintained its view to go electric eventfully, but this is the first time it formally set a timeline for its all-electric drive.
Meanwhile, following its parent company in the US, General Motors do Brasil also said that it would cease its gasoline and ethanol fuel-powered vehicles production by 2035. Brazil is the 2nd world largest bioethanol producer, following the US. What would be the impact of electric/hydrogen vehicles on biofuel is a separate topic for discussion.
Government support is crucial
Mr Biden administration is expected to pump billions of dollars into the automotive sector to support electric and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. The federal government and some states are also likely to boost their incentives for emission-free vehicles. GM and other plug-in power and hydrogen-powered automakers are likely to benefit from the government incentives.
While GM has started setting the scene, other automakers are also likely to unveil their plans. Some have already set their goals. Bentley, a subsidiary the Volkswagen Group, announced last year to switch its model range to plug-in hybrid or battery electric vehicles by 2026, and fully electric cars by 2030.
While automakers start going after electric vehicles, there are concerns that the supply of critical batteries raw materials such as lithium and cobalt are likely to come under pressure, resulting in a price hike. Owing to the high battery costs, automakers opted to start electric vehicles production with luxury cars. GM is now relying on its new in-house electric-vehicle technology called Ultium, which claims to cut battery costs by about 60% by 2025. This will make its models affordable. However, affordability is not the case presently- it is launching its GMC Hummer pickup truck later this year using Ultium technology, with a whopping US$ 113,000 price tag.
No fuel cell cars planned
GM plans to launch 30 all-electric models globally by 2025, with 40% of its offering in the US will be battery electric vehicles (BEVs). It is investing US$ 27 billion in electric and autonomous vehicles over the next five years, up by US$ 7 billion from its last year planned investment.
The company said that it would achieve its decarbonisation goals by moving to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) or other zero-emission vehicle technology, sourcing renewable energy and leveraging minimal offsets or credits.
Still, GM does not want to abandon fuel cell technology
Hydrogen could play a key role as GM is not new to fuel cell technology. It has been involved in FCEV technology for more than 50 years. However, the company has not launched any fuel-cell cars so far except for some testing prototypes.
GM developed fuel-cell Chevrolet Equinox crossovers which did not make from the testing phase. In 2017, it built the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS) for military fuel-cell vehicles followed by a special version of the Colorado pickup truck for the defence industry.
The company is now more dedicated towards electric vehicles, though does not want to give up on developing fuel cell technology. It has announced in January 2021 to work with Navistar, for building powertrains for long haul hydrogen trucks. It may want to pursue the development of its fuel cells technology but no immediate plans to use it for passenger cars.