By Dennis Waszak Jr.
GM chief executive Mary Barra says investors will reward her company for its $10 billion electric-vehicle investment, and not just for its announcement last month that it will shift Chevrolet trucks to battery power from conventional engines.
Speaking to reporters last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Barra was asked about concerns that U.S. vehicle makers — especially after a devastating financial crisis — need to invest in battery-powered and other environmentally friendly vehicles to protect their businesses from the threat posed by an aging population and climate change.
Investors, Barra said, “will reward that investment and the forward-looking, environmentally friendly new technologies.”
GM did invest in the Cadillac ATS — a plug-in hybrid SUV — at the expense of some gas-powered models, she said. A hybrid model is supposed to capture more than 40 percent of the sales of the same vehicle, and all GM hybrid vehicles will have at least that amount by 2023, Barra said.
The competition in the market has expanded to new manufacturers, including Tesla Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., start-up founded by Elon Musk. Barra said GM doesn’t see Tesla and other new entrants as rivals, but “better customers.”
“Some investors may have hoped that if the market got a little bit weaker that consumers would stay in gas-guzzling vehicles to keep their jobs, and that is not what we’re seeing,” she said.
Just last week, GM announced a preliminary pact to sell an electric minivan in Europe. The compact shared-cab minivan will be offered by Opel and Vauxhall and first offered at the end of 2018.
Tesla’s Chevrolet Bolt already offers the first battery-powered electric car for U.S. consumers, with estimated range at about 240 miles on a single charge, the automaker said. BMW began selling a similarly priced electric Mini four-door hatchback late last year in the United States.
In October, GM announced it would spend $10 billion in battery- and electric-vehicle technologies, which it sees as key to the future of the automotive industry.
GM and GM Cruise, the autonomous-driving division of the company, are scheduled to launch a project in San Francisco this year in which the automaker will pilot self-driving vehicles for the first time. The autonomous vehicle will interact with a GM and Lyft vehicle that will carry human passengers.
“This pilot,” Barra said, “is an opportunity for GM to learn and make a positive impact, not just for GM, but for the United States of America.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.