For GM, Making More Affordable, Longer-Range EVs Is a Top Priority

By · September 17, 2013

Chevrolet Volt

General Motors may be readying itself to launch the Cadillac ELR range-extended luxury coupe later this year, but building more affordable and capable plug in cars is its top priority, Doug Parks, GM’s vice president for global product programs said on Monday. Talking with reporters at GM’s global battery systems laboratory near Detroit, Parks reinforced that affordability and performance were two key goals to widen electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid adoption.

“We’re trying to put more stress on getting this right for the lower-priced vehicles,” he told Automotive News, explaining that GM wanted to build on technologies used in the Chevrolet Volt and Chevrolet Spark EV—and make EV ownership more affordable for a new wave of consumers.

Parks confirmed that the next-generation Chevrolet Volt would benefit from a lighter curb weight, better efficiency and a higher all-electric range in addition to a lower, more affordable sticker price, perhaps $7,000 to $10,000 cheaper than the current Volt.

Getting the Message Right

Previous reports have claimed that the second-generation Volt—due sometime in 2015 as a 2016 model year—would also feature a smaller, all-aluminum turbocharged three cylinder engine, dramatically increasing fuel efficiency in combined and gasoline-only modes. At yesterday’s press event however, Parks did not confirm second-generation Volt engine choices.

But while part of GM’s challenge is to make plug-in cars affordable for all, another major challenge facing GM is its advertising strategy, Parks said. He admitted that, despite numerous advertising campaigns and various different sales strategies, GM hasn’t yet “simplified the message” of plug-in cars to make them attractive to more buyers.

With a stated sales target of 500,000 electrified vehicles—including hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric per year—by 2017, GM’s advertising strategy must now focus on the economic advantages to electric vehicle ownership, not just social and environmental benefits.

While cheaper, better performing electric cars are GM’s biggest goal, the automaker is also keeping close watch of the luxury plug-in car market, currently dominated by Tesla Motors. While the Cadillac ELR is unlikely to compete with the Tesla Model S on all-electric range, GM knows it needs to produce a plug-in car that appeals to high-end buyers.

“We may do a couple of cars up there too because that’s a great place to be and we’re a full-line manufacturer,” said Parks. When asked if he believed in Tesla’s approach to plug-in vehicle manufacturing, he added that “coming in and matching what Tesla did isn’t that exciting for us.”

Nonetheless, there is one thing that GM wants to mimic from Tesla: driving range. While the next-generation Volt won’t have Tesla-level range, GM CEO Dan Akerson has hinted several times that the Detroit automaker was working on an EV that can go 200 miles on a charge.

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