China Holds The Keys To Success At General Motors With Electric Cars

General Motors proclaimed it has 20 new electric cars in the pipeline by 2023 last year, and China will play a pivotal role in the automaker’s success as it embraces electric powertrains, or “propulsion methods,” as GM likes to call it.

Bloomberg highlighted how important China will be to General Motors as the automaker moves to navigate an upheaval in the industry in a Wednesday report and it hinges on electric cars.

If GM is going to hold true to its belief in an “all-electric future,” per product chief Mark Reuss, China will be the epicenter. The United States hasn’t rallied around electric cars, and to be frank, there’s hardly an incentive to make the switch. Fuel prices remain low; charging infrastructure remains sparse across the country; and customers can’t get enough SUVs and pickup trucks.

Despite the market realities, GM is betting big on being an early adopter. The automaker could easily begin shipping over electric cars from China should the U.S. market have an about-face and begin to shun the internal-combustion engine, but plenty of hurdles remain.

For example, the Chevrolet Bolt EV uses more aluminum and copper than a traditional car and far less steel. The two materials will only cost more next year amid the U.S.-initiated trade war. Further, GM will need to address the value found in electric cars. Last year, the report claimed GM lost $7,000 on every Bolt EV sold, even though it’s roughly $9,000 more expensive than a traditional gasoline-powered car. Experts believe it will still take at least six years before an electric car’s most expensive component—the battery pack—reaches cost parity with internal combustion engines.

Add in the fact GM will soon lose its federal tax credit for electric-car purchases, and things look dicey in the U.S.

In China, GM continues to ride the wave of government subsidies and regulations that will require automakers to sell a certain number of electric cars and meet a quota. Unlike other markets, sales of GM’s electric cars have increased in China, although the market is down sharply this past year.

With GM out of many major auto markets such as India and Europe, the future hinges on one country: China. That is, until North Americans buy into the automaker’s envisioned future.

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Sean Szymkowski: Former GM Authority staff writer.

View Comments (12)

  • I was hoping the American people had enough sense to see the EV need "before" they end up chewing the air we breath like the Chinese have been doing since they adopted our " enlightened" western ways. But alas it's always "follow the money" on this ever so slightly manipulated planet. Here, it's oil/coal/gas AND government that are addicted to the revenue stream. In China, where oil hasn't had a century to gain the same foothold on politicians, Their government wants to keep their cheap labor force healthy enough to keep churning out their crap, hence the need to thin the air out a bit there. But this of course is just my humble opinion.

    • It would be interesting to see the long term effects of the destruction on our environment from all those electric grids that will be created over the next several years, not to mention the destruction to the environment from the fuel sources needed to create that energy. More nuclear power stations, the continuous burning of coal, and oil, wind and solar will never supply the power needed to keep 300,000,000+ cars and trucks on the road.

      Everything pollutes to some degree........

    • Sorry for jumping in late...

      The US will not be chewing the air we breath any time soon, if ever. The air pollution in China is easily 10x higher than in the US. If you have been there, you can (can't) see many low grade coal burning power plants belching out that pollution. Their number one issue is supplying enough electrical power to sustain their growth. Adding increased demand with electric vehicles will further tax their system.

      They are trying to use their consumer base to corner the electrification technology market by highly subsidizing it and leveraging their size. They steal most of the technology, mass produce it and dump it in other markets by manipulating their currency value to keep the relative costs down.

      If you saw the toxic water and air the average city dwelling Chinese person endures, you would realize they don't really care about their workers. I am old enough to have experienced the worst pollution in the US and China far surpasses it.

      • I agree with you on China's unscrupulous biz practices but not with your pollution assessments. I too am "old enough" and grew up in Boston when the Charles river was the dirtiest in the country with oozing, bubbling cesspools of every color everywhere and dumping into the equally nasty Boston harbor. I also spent a year in OC, CAli in '81 when you couldn't see to the next traffic light. I am definitely not a big gov fan but neither am I very fond of unbridled greed both of which exist in abundance here and there.

  • Just a hunch.

    But GM’s all-Electric future will be imported from China.

    No movement by GM that we know of, on a dedicated vehicle creation facility. No domestic lithium battery facility (most, now, are from LG in S Korea, it seems).

    And no leadership in electro-charging infrastructure. Annnd - no solution we know of on really usable trucks and SUV/CUVs. (The stuff people seem to want and need. And buy).

    So you’re left with Chinese errand cars, and short commute mobiles.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Whether or not anyone wants to hear it, fully electric vehicles reaching a mass adoption point in the USA, are still a LONG way away.

  • Some of the pricing issue has to do with economies of scale.

    Since GM basically refused to really try to sell either the Volt or the Bolt, the sales numbers never really went where they should have. So pricing remains higher than with the 100 year old technology vehicles they are actively selling now.

    Outside of the "CARB" states, how many advertisements did anyone see for ANY of GM's brilliant electrified offerings?


    Now lets compare that that to the number of TRUCK MONTH ads they ran. And they wonder why people want huge SUV's and trucks...... Advertising sells, remember??? I especially want to puke when I see the ad where the wife runs over to the Christmas huge truck and says "I Love It!" Give me a break. She needs that monstrosity about as much as I need a bulldozer to get to work.... And at the end of those ads, when the Chevy lineup of vehicles is shown, they don't even bother to include the Volt or the Bolt. Why??????

    I own both a 2012 Volt and a 2017 Bolt and they are the best vehicles I have ever owned. They do exactly what they were designed to do, are fun to drive, and the cost of operation and maintenance is so much lower than a traditional vehicle. I filled up the gas tank in my Volt today. It took 8.5 gallons. That is the first gasoline I have put in it since the end of October!

    IMHO, GM gave up the fantastic lead they had in the BEV and EREV marketplace. After all this time, there should be a BEV Trax sized SUV and a Voltec based truck in the Chevy showrooms. Quite simply, GM wimped out, IMHO.

    I will never buy an ICE based vehicle ever again. Whether or not my next one is from GM, is totally up to them. But if the choice is another manufacturer that produces the vehicle in the USA or a GM unit imported from China, it will not be a GM product.

    Stop and think about it. How many of those truck buyers would be buying if they knew they were Chinese built? So why am I supposed to just accept that my next electric vehicle is OK to come from China?????


    Jim - Very Happy 2012 Volt & 2017 Bolt Owner

    • Gave up their lead - exactly.

      Had a head start, pulled back.
      No plan in the works that we know of, but China looks like the near-term solution.

      Still don’t get why the Exxons and Shells of the world aren’t adding electricity to their ‘energy station’ lineup. Tesla has a network of supercharger stations - only ones I know of who’ve done that.

      • I absolutely agree. I think energy stations would be well served to have a couple L2 chargers if they are along main arteries in cities. The electrical infrastructure is likely able to handle an L2 setup and the investment is minimal. If the average person can still think of the familiar location or company as a place to purchase more energy for their car anxiety drops off rapidly. Locations that find themselves being used more frequently than the average could look at possible L3 infrastructure. I think a real ground level opportunity for big oil retailers is being overlooked. If they don't someone else will.

  • I will not buy any GM car built in China. I think few Americans will. If Tesla, a start up, can dominate the world's e-car market in only a few years with a car built mostly here, than GM should be able to build their electrics here as well. If not, maybe they are going to follow Sears as a once great American name that has out lived it's time.