With all the hype surrounding Nio, XPeng and BYD, it’s easy to overlook the fact that US companies like General Motors and Ford also have a strong presence in China. As in America, the Chevrolet brand is positioned as a value brand, while Buick is positioned as a premium brand for upscale customers.
At a GM Tech Day event in Shanghai this week, General Motors CEO Mary Barra announced a plan to introduce more than 15 battery-electric models based on the company’s Ultium platform in China by 2025, reaffirming GM’s commitment to Making electric vehicles more connected and intelligent.
“As we awaken our breakthrough technologies, we are witnessing the most profound and tremendous transformation ever in the automotive industry,” said Barra. “GM is committed to leading the transformation and ultimately creating a better, safer and more sustainable world for our customers and generations to come.” GM’s latest mantra is “Zero Accidents, Zero Emissions and Zero Congestion.”
General Motors says it is accelerating the development and adoption of software-defined vehicles to meet customers’ evolving needs for a digital lifestyle. Its new software-defined vehicle platform will be launched in North America and China next year. This platform enables frequent and seamless updates to apps and services over the air, ensuring users have access to the most innovative experiences and technologies.
“GM is accelerating the introduction of Ultium-powered electric vehicles in China to support the market’s evolution toward an all-electric future,” said Julian Blissett, President of GM China. “Through global collaboration and local integration, we are bringing our customers a transformative experience with real-world benefits of zero-emission driving.”
Chevrolet concept electric sedan
At GM Tech Day in Shanghai, General Motors unveiled the FNR-XE, a concept design for a four-door battery electric sedan that will be the first of 15 planned EV models to come from the Bow Tie brand in China by 2025.
According to GM Authority, the FNR-XE concept is Chevrolet’s first concept vehicle based on Ultium Battery and Ultium Drive propulsion technology, combining GM’s global resources with the company’s local development capabilities in China. It is Chevrolet’s first interpretation of an electric four-door sedan.
There’s a lot of fuss about “muscular proportions, an aggressive wedge-shaped front end that pays homage to legendary American muscle car tradition”. But a car is more than styling. Observant readers will notice the sloping rear roofline, which is becoming a hallmark of virtually all electric cars.
Efficiency is crucial for electron-powered cars, and will be at least until cheaper batteries with higher energy densities become available. In the good old days of the internal combustion engine, manufacturers could afford to design cars that had the aerodynamics of a brick, but no more.
Today, every electric car from the Mercedes EQS to the Hyundai Ioniq 6 has a teardrop shape that glides easily through the air. Those who don’t pay a hefty fine when it comes to range, and range is the number one consideration for most EV buyers. Traditional sedans used to be referred to as “three-box” vehicles – one for the engine, one for the passenger compartment, and one for the trunk. The sedans of the future will be more like two-and-a-half box designs, which we can see in the FNR-XE’s sleek, sleek lines.
A concept is just a concept, but the buzz in Chinese media is that the FNR-XE gives strong hints at a battery-electric sedan from Chevrolet that’s expected to launch in China next year. The speculation is that there’s a direct connection under the skin between the FNR-XE and the upcoming Chevy Equinox, which will hit the streets in America next year with a starting price of around $30,000.
According to General Motors, the FNR-XE concept was developed by its Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center in Shanghai and demonstrates just how flexible the Ultium architecture can be. This platform is designed as a basis for vehicles with multiple body styles in many price ranges. It underpins the new Brightdrop vans, the Hummer EV, the Cadillac Lyriq, and upcoming Equinox, Blazer, Silverado, and Sierra electric vehicles.
Buick EV coming to America?
Recently, Mark Reuss, President of General Motors, told investors that some Tesla owners have their cars serviced at GM dealerships. Also during those remarks, Reuss said the Chinese-made Buick Envista SUV could soon come to the US as the Buick Electra E5 all-electric SUV, according to Motor Trend.
“It’s already made in China and takes the Buick design of the Wildcat. A nice vehicle that is also getting ready for the USA here,” said Reuss. He didn’t offer any further details about when this car might go on sale in America. There can be tricky calculations behind the scenes as GM tries to figure out whether the car should be made in China and import duties paid on it, or assembled in America to qualify for the various Inflation Reduction Act incentives.
Readers will note that the Envista also has the sloping rear roofline that defines most electric cars. This shape limits rear headroom and cargo capacity – two features that made SUVs popular in the first place. But the laws of aerodynamics are immutable. If you’re building an SUV that looks like a Suburban, it needs a massive (and expensive) battery to provide the range people expect from an electric car. The sloping aft deck is apparently here to stay.
General Motors as an intercontinental titan
Many automakers once thought they would get rich selling cars to Chinese customers. After all, there are 1.2 billion, which makes China the largest new car market in the world. What they didn’t anticipate was the rise of Chinese car companies and Chinese customers’ preference for cars designed and produced by Chinese companies in China.
It’s interesting that GM’s biggest seller is the tiny Wuling Mini, a budget city car that’s proving extremely popular. But its contribution to GM’s bottom line is likely tiny. Making money from selling electric cars in China remains a major challenge, as does navigating the country’s swirling political and economic countercurrents.
The Ultium platform is an American-made component that will form the basis of GM’s Chinese offerings, and models developed for China could in turn find their way back into American showrooms. If General Motors can learn to successfully juggle all of those parts, given its recent interest in re-entering the European market, it may be well on its way to becoming an intercontinental brand again.
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