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GM CEO Barra talks Tesla, more EVs and Michigan’s shot at a new factory

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General Motors CEO Mary Barra on Thursday took on topics ranging from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to the possibility of a new factory in Michigan.

Barra addressed a group of Thursday, on the eve of her eight-year anniversary as GM’s CEO, as part an Automotive Press Association event at the Gem Theater in Detroit.

Top of mind was a question on her opinion of Musk’s comments earlier this weeksuggesting that President Joe Biden’s spending bill be “deleted.” The bill, which includes up to a $12,500 tax credit for EVs and subsidies for EV charging stations, favors union automakers, rather than Tesla.

“I’m not going to get into a match on that type of stuff because I actually mean what I say and say what I mean,” Barra said. “When I say something, I really mean it and I’m an engineer, so I am going to execute it.”

Barra, who has said GM will be the EV leader in the future, said Biden’s bill helps GM reach a broad group of consumers.

GM has promised to bring 30 new EVs to market by 2025, including a $30,000-priced Equinox-like electric SUV it will reveal next year.

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“It’s one thing if you’re selling luxury vehicles to a slice of the public. It’s another thing when you’re providing EVs to someone who buys a $30,000 Equinox because that’s the most that they can afford,” Barra said. “It’s their only vehicle. If they don’t get to work, it impacts their livelihood. Do those individuals need that support to make the transition? I think it’s reasonable, if you’re trying to accelerate something.”

The big difference

GM’s first EV on the automaker’s proprietary Ultium battery platform is the 2022 GMC Hummer EV pickup being built at Factory ZERO in Detroit and Hamtramck.

Barra said GM is “days away from getting the Hummer into the first customer’s hands.”

Starting next year, GM will unveil more new EVs it has planned to launch over the next few years. She said GM has moved up production on some of them and is moving as fast as it can without sacrificing quality.

Consumers will see the scale of GM’s transition when it starts revealing more EVs beyond the Hummer EV, Hummer SUV and 2023 Cadillac Lyriq SUV.

“It’s one thing to say 30 vehicles globally by 2025, but when you start to say, ‘It’s this and this and this and this and it’s this year and next year’ … That’s going to change the game,” Barra said. “When you see the timing of the Silverado E for when it will be available and what that vehicle offers it is unmatched and that’ll make a big difference.”

GM will unveil the Silverado E all-electric pickup in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It will also be built at Factory ZERO.

A plant for Michigan?

In its EV transition, GM is building new factories and Michigan hopes to get one. 

On Thursday, GM announced two new partnerships with manufacturers of raw materials that will result in each building a new supplier factory in the United States — one in Fort Worth, Texas, and the other location yet to be announced.

Last week, GM said it formed a partnership with South Korea-based chemical maker POSCO Chemical. The two will build a new supplier factory in North America by 2024, location unannounced.

GM is building two Ultium LLC battery plants, one in Ohio and one in Tennessee. It has yet to announce where it will build two more Ultium battery plants.

Michigan leaders are working to offer incentives to entice GM to build at least one of the plants here.

When asked whether GM would do so, Barra said. “Stay tuned. There’s a lot of conversations going on right now and in the not-to-distant future we’ll be able to answer that question. I need to be fair to all parties involved.”

When asked how long is the “not-to-distant future,” Barra said, “Count weeks not months.”

‘Just keep doing it’

Barra said she is confident that GM can be a leader in the EV space because GM is ahead of most of its competitors.

“Everything everyone is announcing they’re doing now, we started doing three years ago,” Barra said. “We’re not talking about doing an dedicated EV platform, we have one and we have one that can go from a super truck like the Hummer to the Lyriq and what you’ll see us announce at CES.”

The Ultium platform gives GM scale and speed for its future EV development, she said.

“We saw this early and we invested in it,” Barra said. “What distinguishes us … for an OEM of scale, we’re first, full stop.”

So why is GM being under valued compared with start-up EV maker Rivian, which has a $95 billion market cap, and Tesla, valued at more than $1 trillion?

“Sometimes the iconic traditional company, even though they’re innovating quickly, just gets looked at with a different lens and that’s OK, we’ll prove it,” Barra said of GM’s $87.5 billion value.

Barra admitted that GM needs to do a better job telling why it will lead the transition to EVs. Then deliver new EVs that consumers want to buy.

“When you’re a company that’s been around for awhile, there’s a different scale you’re measured on in terms of do it versus say you’re going to do it. So we’ll just keep doing it.”

Contact Jamie L. LaReau at 313-222-2149 or jlareau@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter. Become a subscriber.





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