GM Confirms Future Investment in Electric Cars, Promises Two Future Models

As predicted earlier this week, General Motors has confirmed a new round of investment in advanced technologies ahead of the market debut of the next-generation Chevrolet Volt worth a total of $449 million.

GM announced a battery systems laboratory expansion in September last year. Now its Brownstone lithium-ion manufacturing facility is expanding, too.

GM announced a battery systems laboratory expansion in September last year. Now its Brownstone lithium-ion manufacturing facility is expanding, too.

Announced at the Automotive Press Association yesterday, the investment consists of a $384 million upgrade program at the Detroit-Hamtramck facility where the Chevrolet Volt extended range electric car is made along with its relations the Vauxhall/Opel Ampera and Cadillac ELR. It also includes a $65 million investment program at GM’s Brownstone Battery Assembly facility, where all of GM’s lithium-ion battery packs are currently made.

Expansion at both plants

GM says the invested funds will cover the installation of new Body Shop tooling, equipment and plant upgrades at its Detroit Hamtramck facility, where it is preparing for the launch of the second-generation Chevrolet Volt. While GM remains quiet as to when production will start on the refreshed model — rumored to have an all-electric range of 50 miles and a far smaller, more efficient range-extending engine — the timing of yesterday’s announcement seems to point to a launch date for the second-generation Volt of some time next year, probably as a 2016 model year.

To cope with expanding Volt production at Hamtramck, GM’s expansion plans also include improvements at the battery facility in Brownstone where Volt battery packs are made. In its official statement, GM said that the $65 million of investment will “support the next generation of lithium-ion battery production and future battery systems,” suggesting at least some of the funding announced will go into making GM’s long-promised 200-mile affordable electric car a reality.

Not one, but two models

The prospect of GM working on a longer-range all-electric model alongside the Volt is also given credence with the news that GM’s total $449 million investment will not only fund the development of the next-generation 2016 Volt, but also two additional ‘future models.’

While GM was careful to refrain from talking about drivetrain or specifications for either of these as-yet unnamed vehicles, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, said that the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant upgrade would secure new jobs for Detroiters, and specifically praised GM’s plans to produce “next-generation electric vehicles” at the facility.

This gives us enough confidence to assume that both new vehicles will be electric, tying in nicely with rumors we’ve heard in the past about two different vehicles destined to come off the production line in Detroit.

GM's expansion will help it prepare for the next-generation successor to the popular Chevy Volt Electric Car

GM’s expansion will help it prepare for the next-generation successor to the popular Chevy Volt Electric Car

One of them is rumored to be an all-electric version of the Chevrolet Volt. Designed to be more affordable than the Volt, the compact car would offer the best bits of the Volt’s electric drivetrain without the complexity of the gasoline range-extending engine. Based on what we know of the U.S. market, we’d guess it would compete directly with the popular Nissan LEAF in the marketplace.

The other rumor centres around a longer-range electric car with as much as 200 miles of range per charge. While GM’s target price is expected to be somewhere in the $30,000 price range, this vehicle would be sold as an affordable long-distance electric car, competing directly in the marketplace with Tesla’s as-yet unreleased Model E. Promised by Tesla some time in the next five years, the Model E would be Tesla’s first truly ‘affordable’ mas-produced family car.

Only good news

While the specifics of future GM plug-in models are still hazy at best, yesterday’s official news of further investment in electric car technology by GM — now more than $1 billion in total since 2009 — cannot be anything but good news for plug-in cars.

Even if you’re not a fan of GM vehicles, the investment and expansion in Detroit should at least help drive the capabilities of electric vehicles upwards and the cost of buying them down.  That can only be a good thing.

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