John Batchelor – does GM have the will to be ZEV?

In 2004, John Batchelor drove a Hydrogen3 in Central Park; Tavern on the Green to be specific. Soon after that, the Hydrogen fuel cell seemed to wither away, and all traces, including the Tavern on the Green, went by the wayside.

This week John Batchelor and I talked about the resurgence of General Motor’s zero emission vehicle program

In a report to investors, Tesla Motors stated that “Q3 production totaled 25,336 vehicles, with 260 of them being Model 3. Model 3 production was less than anticipated due to production bottlenecks. Although the vast majority of manufacturing subsystems at both our California car plant and our Nevada Gigafactory can operate at a high rate, a handful has taken longer to activate than expected.”

Does Elon Musk get a pass? Yes, sure he does. As Musk said, Production is hell. Even companies that are one hundred years old have production glitches; they also have to suspend production because they overproduced. Musk’s problem is one every car company would love to have; over 350,000 put down $1,000 to get in line to buy a Tesla Model 3. Besides, Musk has changed the perception of what electric vehicles mean to the world.

GM also introduced the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS). SURUS is a fuel cell powered, four-wheel steer concept vehicle on a heavy-duty truck frame that’s driven by two electric motors. SURUS could be used as a delivery vehicle, truck or even an ambulance — all emissions free.

“General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors executive vice president of Product Development, Purchasing, and Supply Chain. “Although that future won’t happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles through no-compromise solutions that meet our customers’ needs.”

In the next 18 months, General Motors will introduce two new all-electric vehicles based off the Chevy Bolt EV. Afterwards, there will be at least 20 new all-electric vehicles that will launch by 2023. There will 20 ZEV 20 by 2023 – BEV or FEV General Motors has four brands, GMC, Buick, Chevy and Cadillac, which just rode a self-driving car across America.

General Motors has announced that hydrogen is back on the drawing board and this time it is a collaboration with Honda. There is no product or timeframe, no rollout announced. We do know that the ZH2 is being tested with the military. The ZH2 is a fuel cell with high ground clearance. Currently, they are testing for over rough terrain and theater applications along with off-road courses at Fort Collins, Fort Bragg, and other facilities.

This is not the first time General Motors has shown a fuel-cell truck to the military. In 2005, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton showed a Chevy Silverado to the public. In Brig. Gen. Roger A. Nadeau’s remarks to the press he said, “this will have a large impact on civilian lives. It will transform the U.S. Army. It will eliminate generators and trailers and decrease drivers and mechanics. Someday we could power our operations centers and mobile hospitals with hydrogen fuel units. It will put the money for soldiers where it needs to be. Our soldiers need the benefit of this technology. It will be a good return on investment.” General Motors says they are serious this time and the plan is to sell electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles in all 50 states, Canada, Korea Mexico.

General Motors is making strides in the car-sharing business as well, creating a service called Maven. Maven is deploying EVs into a car sharing fleet that started one year ago in NYC, San Francisco. Both the Bolt and Volt will be in service for car-sharing for Maven Gig weekly rentals for gigs like pizza or flower delivery. The program will begin in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.

Maven city is a membership program with a mobile app that is being deployed in Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Jersey City, Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, San Francisco, Washington DC, Kitchener, Waterloo Ontario, Canada.

Another aspect of Maven is Maven home an exclusive car sharing for residential-sharing – sort of like the golf carts you see around Sun City, only they are Bolts and Volts. This program will start in SF and DC residential community.

Many companies are getting into the game. According to a Facebook post by Richard Truett, Automotive News, “Ford is reducing internal combustion engine capital expenditures by one-third and redeploying that capital into electrification – on top of the previously announced $4.5 billion investment. This trend will take place at every automaker. The clock is ticking on the internal combustion engine.”

According to the IHS Markit powertrain forecast service, Ford will produce 50,000 EV units in 2021, compared with about 1,700 in 2017. Including these EVs, all Ford’s electrification production is forecast to rise to about 471,000 units in 2021, moving past 769,000 units in 2023. Ford’s statements and the new strategic team come against the backdrop of myriad EV production announcements from several automakers. On the same day as reports of Ford’s Team Edison surfaced, for example, General Motors (GM) declared that it will ultimately be zero-emissions vehicle company, will launch two new EVs in the next 18 months and will launch 20 by 2023. Nissan also revealed an extensive plan for expanding EVs in Europe and is on the verge of launching a second-generation Nissan Leaf. Volkswagen (VW), Daimler and BMW have all also communicated extensive EV plans at the recent Frankfurt auto show and earlier. While Ford announced a USD4.5-billion investment into electrification, as well as investment into a US plant as a center of excellence for the manufacturing, the company’s public comments in this space, suggest it is behind the curve on EV development, compared with GM, Nissan, and some German automakers. The Ford comments also are reported the day before new CEO Jim Hackett is due to explain his vision for the company to investors. Much is riding on Hackett’s ability to deliver a comprehensive plan that investors can see will move the company forward.

General Motors may not be the first company to bring out zero electric vehicles in production in the twenty-first century, but they’ve got technology, the science and the ability. It was one of the reasons I was an advocate for the Government to give them loans to stay alive.

Now we’ll see if they have the will this time.

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.

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