Reality vs. Posturing - New Chevy Suburban & GM's All-Electric Future Promise
General Motors has in many ways been an electric vehicle leader in the Automotive industry. GM has offered electric vehicles off an on since the mid-1990s. The Chevy Volt remains a leading seller in history among affordable electric vehicles in the United States. GM has also had the broadest lineup of vehicles with a plug in the US market. However, as we sing GM's praises for past accomplishments it is hard to ignore a pledge that GM began making in 2017. That is the company's "All-electric future."
EV Reality vs. Hype
Let's face it, the electric vehicle segment in the automotive industry has become known for hype, false promises, and vaporware. EVs companies that don't have a production line "launch" new models. Companies with a tiny amount of EV sales, less than even one mainstream gas-powered model at other companies, are hyped as having "changed the game." Factories are always "Giga", regardless of whether their output is smaller than many older conventional factories. We could keep going. But the EV fans won't be convinced, and the folks are uninterested in EVs are not reading this.
Isn't GM Different?
When GM first began committing to its "all-electric future" full of promises of zero crashes and zero emissions, we sort of believed the company. GM, like Ford, Toyota, and VW, have a long tradition of keeping mum on new products until they are ready for sale and until the production network is already established. So, when GM spoke of an all-electric future, we assumed that they were already well underway with the plans and product designs that would take us there. It seems we were mistaken.
We can't be faulted for having hope. By 2017, GM had been selling EVs in the modern era for ten years. GM had not only the Volt EREV, and Spark EV, but the Bolt BEV on dealer lots. Plus, GM was well past the point of having tried hybrids across all of its platforms, including its trucks. So, why should we have had anything but faith that in the coming years GM would start to march out its EV lines starting with its most important product lines?
New Milestones Point To GM's Reality
Since then a few milestones stick out in our minds. One is the new Corvette. The Corvette is GM's flagship car in many ways, or halo car, if you prefer that term. It is an aspirational vehicle that highlights GM's latest technology advances. We love the Corvette. We love that it has a V8. But this new product does not square in any way with an "all-electric future." But again, the "Vette is mainly a small-volume, special purpose car.
The next milestone was the new Silverado and Sierra. GM is out of business without a very successful pair of pickups. Protected by a 25% import duty since the Johnson administration, these cash-cows make the company work. Yet, when launched, no EV version. No plug-in of any type. Not even a hybrid. Huh.
Last night GM launched its new Suburban and Tahoe. No hybrid, no plug-in, no EV. So now GM has updated its two most important product lines and offers not a single green version of any of the models that makes the company work. Every single trim has a V8 engine. Except the diesel of course. That's a 3.0-liter six-cylinder. If you still think diesels are green you have missed some fun scandals.
What Does The CEO of the "All-electric" Company Drive?
The last milestone (and these are certainly not in order by date) is a comment almost nobody noticed at the tail end of an interview this year of Mary Barra, GM's CEO. At an energy forum where GM had delivered a bunch of EVs to highlight its top to bottom commitment to an all-electric future, Ms. Barra was asked, almost by accident, what vehicle she herself drives. A Cadillac Escalade was the answer. (Timestamp 9:18 in the video above) Here is a challenge for you. Try to find a GM media image with Mary Barra standing next to the full-sized, gas-burning SUV she actually drives. We can't. However, GM images of Ms. Barra next to a Volt or Bolt are everywhere.
How can a company with a CEO that drives one of the thirstiest gas-burners in production without a single green version of its most important product lines be taken seriously when it says it is working towards an "all-electric future?"
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch, in the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and connect with him at Linkedin.