For the past few years, General Motors has spent nearly $17.8 billion in improving and retooling its U.S.manufacturing facilities to help it pave the way towards cleaner, greener, and smarter vehicles.
Some of that investment — approximately $450 million — has helped GM ready its Detroit Hamtramck facility to begin production of its second-generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car. Due to enter production this summer head of an August market debut, the second-generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt features improved all-electric range and gas mileage over its predecessor, as well as an all-new chassis and body design. Its revised drivetrain and electric motors are also far more efficient and use less rare earth metals than those found in the first-generation Volt.
Last year, GM also committed to spending $160 million on the Orion Township plant to ready it for an at-the-time unnamed all-electric car. Since then, we’ve come to know that electric car as the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which will enter into production by October next year alongside the next-generation Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano.
But yesterday, GM announced an additional $245 million in funding for the Orion plant, specifically to help it bring a brand-new, unnamed model to market. All in all, that brings the total investment in the Orion plant to $962 million since it reopened in 2010.
While GM won’t discuss the specifics of the model it intends to build, there are enough signs to make us think it will be an advanced fuel vehicle, most likely an electric car.
That’s because last spring, GM confirmed a massive future investment in its electric car program, promising not one but two new future models for production in the near future. One we now know as the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, but the other — which some rumours say will be an all-electric car based on the Chevrolet Volt — has yet to be revealed. Whatever it is, building a second electric vehicle at the same plant as the Chevrolet Bolt EV would enable GM to dramatically streamline its production process, training just one set of staff in one location for the specialities of electric vehicle production rather than two.
Add in the fact that GM has invested a total of more than $1 billion in electric vehicle technology since 2009, and we think you’ll agree that the future unnamed vehicle is likely to be powered by non-conventional means.
Further, recent layoffs at the Orion plant, caused by lessening demand for the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano models as buyers become ever-more conscious of fuel economy, demonstrates that the plant needs to switch its output from traditional vehicles to greener, cleaner ones in order to keep GM’s pocket book healthy as well as its workers and the UAW which represents those workers.
“Orion Assembly is a breeding ground for manufacturing innovation,” said Cathy Clegg, GM North America Vice President of Manufacturing and Labor Relations in an official statement yesterday. “It serves as a model for how to engage the entire workforce at all levels to achieve success. The plant is up to the challenge of building this brand-new product, something it’s never seen before.”
On further investigation, GM spokespeople would only confirm the uniqueness of the all-new vehicle, reiterating that Orion’s engaged workforce, known for their innovative thinking, were key to the plant being chosen for this new vehicle.
Finally, GM is unusually coy about what the investment will be used for, only promising that the vehicle it intends to make in Orion Township will be unlike anything it has made in the past.
What does it all mean? Obviously, we’re only speculating — but given the signs, we think GM’s second mass-produced electric car is a distinct possibility at this time.
The only other alternative we can think of? A hydrogen fuel cell car.
While that might sound like a change of direction, that second possibility is also plausible: to date, GM has invested more than $2.5 billion in hydrogen fuel cell technology. Indeed, as GM’s executive director of Powertrains Charlie Freese detailed last year, GM’s attitude to hydrogen fuel cell technology has been focused primarily on development activities based on its hydrogen fuel cell Equinox test fleet rather than building a mass-produced fuel cell vehicle.
But while the eyes of the world are focused on Toyota, Honda and Hyundai’s efforts to bring hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to market, GM’s quiet test project could conceivably be ready to give rise to GM’s first hydrogen fuel cell car. Given GM’s promise of the Orion plant building a brand-new product that’s nothing like any other GM product, we think this outcome is as plausible as a second-electric model.
Of course, we’ll not find out until GM makes its plans a little more public — but in the meantime, we’re curious to see what you think.
Will GM’s unnamed new vehicle be electric, hydrogen or something completely different? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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