10-2-17 2:02 PM EDT | Email Article
By Mike Colias 

General Motors Co. plans to introduce two more electric vehicles in the U.S. within 18 months and 20 globally within six years, the latest auto maker to forge ahead on EV technology despite uncertain consumer demand.

GM said it would use the underpinnings of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, introduced in the U.S. late last year, to offer two more EVs in its home market, declining to discuss details of the new models. The company also said it has developed a next-generation battery system that will allow for greater flexibility in EV sizes and body styles in coming years.

Auto makers are ramping up electrification plans amid mounting pressure from regulators across the globe to begin phasing out fossil-fuel-based vehicles. China, France and other countries have floated outright bans on gas or diesel cars in coming decades.

Mark Reuss, GM's product-development chief, said the auto maker will continue to offer a range of alternatives for consumers, including hybrid systems and gas and diesel engines during what it expected to be a long transition to a predominantly electric future.

"General Motors believes the future is all-electric," Mr. Reuss told reporters Monday at GM's design center in suburban Detroit.

Separately, Ford Motor Co. on Monday said it has formed a new team to help direct the $4.5 billion the auto maker plans to spend on electric-vehicle development over the next four years. The Detroit-based group, named "Team Edison," will explore partnerships with suppliers and other companies, the company said.

GM, the nation's largest auto maker, also said it would do more to expand the availability of charging stations to help spur consumer demand for EVs but didn't peg an investment amount or disclose specific plans. A dearth of charging infrastructure is seen as a major hurdle to broader acceptance of the technology.

Electric vehicles account for less than 1% of total U.S. sales and are a sliver of the nearly 90 million sold globally. EV market share is expected rise as more models hit the market with longer ranges, better features and, eventually, lower prices. But analysts predict it will take nearly a decade for the cost of EVs to drop into the same ballpark as gas-powered cars.

While battery costs are falling, most auto makers are thought to incur losses on their EV sales. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne once publicly begged consumers not to buy one of the company's EVs, because it lost $14,000 on each one. Mr. Reuss said GM's future EVs "will be profitable."

Talk of battery cars dominated last month's Frankfurt Motor Show, as executives from Volkswagen AG, BMW AG and other auto makers announced major expansion plans for their EV portfolios in coming years.

Still, analysts say battery costs, charging infrastructure and battery capacity are deterrents to broader EV adoption. Despite the uncertainty, GM and other traditional auto makers are vying for leadership. They're also fending off a growing pack of startup companies emboldened by the success of Tesla Inc. and the lower barriers to entry for electric cars relative to vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines.

China has been most aggressive in seeding an electric-car market through regulations and financial incentives for auto makers and consumers. In recent years it has emerged as the top market globally for EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles, mostly low-price cars from Chinese brands.

GM said its next-generation battery platform would be offered in two different vehicle heights, which would allow it to build both cars and larger vehicles, such as SUVs and vans. Most EVs sold today are small cars. GM officials showed reporters fully built prototypes of three electric vehicles, including an SUV, a wagon and a podlike micro bus.

GM also reiterated its commitment to fuel cells, an expensive technology that produces electricity from hydrogen and oxygen. Since 2013, the company has been working with Honda to develop fuel-cell technology, though GM hasn't disclosed plans for specific models or said whether it plans sales to the public. The U.S. Army since last year has been testing a fuel-cell-powered Chevy pickup.

GM has been a leader in electric cars, though commercial success has proved elusive. It introduced what was considered the first mass-produced EV in the modern era, the EV1, in 1996, only to cancel it a few years later amid skimpy sales. The company broke ground in late 2010 when it launched the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which remains on the market with a fervent customer base despite falling short of original sales goals.

The Chevy Bolt is considered the first relatively affordable EV that can go long distances -- about 240 miles -- on a single charge. Still, GM has relatively modest sales goals for the car in the U.S. and has yet to disclose plans to sell it in China.

Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 02, 2017 14:02 ET (18:02 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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