General Motors Promises Profitable Electric Cars By 2021 … But How?

General Motors


GM CEO Mary Barra has publicly announced that the automaker will make money on EVs by 2021, and a recent panel interview provides insight into exactly how this might unfold.

No automaker has been able to say this thus far. Tesla, a leader in battery-electric vehicles, continues to burn through cash. Toyota has a handful more battery-related patents than GM and has been successful in the hybrid segment for several years, however, the automaker still hasn’t jumped headfirst into pure electric vehicles.

General Motors

Chevrolet Volt

So, how can GM promise such success in only a few years?

Unfortunately for the U.S. — according to a panel of current and former GM execs and other industry experts interviewed by Reuters — it’s likely going to happen due to huge EV/battery production in China. In the meantime, in order to keep cash coming in to fund such pursuits, GM will also focus heavily on traditional trucks, SUVs, and gas-powered cars in North America.

By the middle of the 2020s, the automaker will then have two separate ventures running in tandem. The China-based global electric car company and the traditional model out of North America. In addition, GM is investing heavily in future mobility, including self-driving, ride-sharing, and pay-per-use systems, like robotaxis.

READ ALSO: General Motors Paves Future: Chevy Bolt, Cruise Automation, Maven, And Lyft

Many people doubt GM CEO Mary Barra’s ability to pull this off since most EV adoption thus far has been fueled by government incentives rather than consumer acceptance. Nonetheless, the automaker has plans in place in an attempt to prove it can work.

One such plan is to reduce the amount of cobalt used in its new EMC 1.0 battery system. Cobalt drives up the cost of lithium-ion batteries significantly and it’s getting more expensive due to increasing demand. Instead, the new systems will use more nickel, which will not only make them more cost-effective, but also more energy dense. The automaker is also working on more efficient battery packaging strategies and cooling methods.

Pam Fletcher, GM’s vice president of global electric vehicle programs, wouldn’t elaborate on specifics. However, she explained that there are other advancements that the automaker is choosing to keep quiet:

General Motors

Chevrolet Bolt EV

“There’s a lot of stuff that we choose not to patent because we don’t want to make it visible.”

All-in-all, GM says it can reduce battery cell costs by more than 30 percent, resulting in a sub-$100 cell cost by 2021. Currently, the pack in the Chevrolet Bolt EV is reported to cost about $10-12K, for a car that starts around $36K.

Former GM engineering director and consultant Jon Bereisa says that the same battery pack will cost as little as $6,000 by 2021. Additionally, Bereisa explained that the next-gen Bolt “could deliver a 45-percent increase in range for about the same (battery) pack cost, or the same range at 45 percent less pack cost.”

While several other automakers have made repeated announcements about investments in EVs and future vehicles, GM has made obvious and visible strides as of late. The company sold failing European affiliates and put an end to work in markets that were proving unsuccessful. This has freed up cash flow, resources, and bodies to focus on new efforts. Now, GM has 1,700 employees solely focused on electric vehicles.

Source: Reuters

Categories: Cadillac, Chevrolet, General


Leave a Reply

74 Comments on "General Motors Promises Profitable Electric Cars By 2021 … But How?"

newest oldest most voted

In other words LG has promised a profitable EV to GO by 2021. /s.
Happy Holi everyone.

GM owns the largest cell research facility in the US. So I imagine is doing a lot of testing on various chemistries. LG might produce them in the end, but GM has to make sure they meet their specs. The Bolt’s cells are GM’s chemistry – LG manufactures them

If they sold the Bolt in the UK that might help!

You can file that under Never Gonna Happen.
They don’t even make a RHD in that model, they retreated from Europe, but going into England would help. How?

The good people of the UK can buy the Hyundai Kona Electric instead, very similar specs to the Bolt. 150kw motor and about 60 kwh battery.

How can you poke at Tesla with that opener? According to your own articles, Tesla is making money at 5x the margin of a Ford ICE. They just happen to be spending it on R&D and additional factories, little things like a global charging infrastructure that GM would not dare to build. I was under the impression that making money on BEVs was only hard for BMW, FCA, and GM. Everyone else should be. Finish this article and break down the per vehicle margins on everything available today.

Lol. Ford make more off thier trucks then tesla make off thier cars.

“Ford make more off thier trucks then tesla make off thier cars.”

Perhaps Ford makes more on a volume basis, but it certainly does not make more on a per-unit or profit margin basis.

That’s not to say that Tesla is “better” at business than Ford; it’s just that smaller auto makers have to survive on a lower volume of sales, and they have to make up for that with a higher profit margin. Because of that, comparing Tesla to Ford is rather pointless or at least misleading. Compare Tesla to Porsche, and I suspect you’d see they are much more alike in terms of volume and profit margins.

The difference which is actually important is that Tesla is growing rapidly year-on-year… and neither Ford nor Porsche are.

5X margin per car but they can not deliver.

Still waiting on your Model III? Be patient. If you’d reserved day 1 in the US, you might be in better spirits. Also, by can’t deliver, are you comparing that to what, last month’s Bolt EV deliveries? Or the Volt? Wait, both? Yeah, don’t talk to me about “can’t deliver.”

Gross profit is still not net profit. Additionally, Tesla’s Hollywood accounting vastly exaggerates Tesla’s gross margins compared to other car makers.

I’m not an accountant. What is Hollywood accounting? I thought there were rules about accounting protocols, set forth by the IRS. Tesla abandoned its non-GAAP practices in… I want to say 2014.

This is a good start:

You are probably need to have a (free) account to read the whole thing but you can use to get around that.

There is a good follow-up on that article too:

Quotes from seeking alpha are only slightly more reliable than business insider.

stimpy, don’t believe someone else. Read for yourself. Go get filings from F and TSLA (10Q or 10K) and spend a couple of hours at the most. See that the difference between how Tesla accounts for Gross Margin cannot help but generate a MUCH larger percentage, just on R&D accounting alone.

It really doesn’t take much effort to see how bunk that analysis is, along with your claims.

Tesla is going to double their total cars on the road in a year, so why wouldn’t they be preparing for that? It needs a huge ramp in SG&A expenditures (e.g. stores, service centers, superchargers) that precedes revenue.

There’s no reason to expect R&D costs to decline as percentage of revenue right now, as Tesla is developing products for bigger and bigger markets. For the last few years the $40k sedan market, now the CUV market, soon the class 8 truck market, etc.

There’s no evidence of dodgy accounting going on.

How terribly unfair of you to use actual facts and reality checks in an argument against anti-Tesla FUD. 😉

One of the things that Tesla doesn’t include in their profit margin is R&D expenses. All the other manufactures you mentioned do. So from the very beginning you’re comparing apples and oranges.

The recent article you’re probably thinking of says Tesla’s target gross margin for the Model 3 is five times Ford’s actual gross margin. That’s like saying you’ll be richer than the Queen of England, if you win the $400 million jackpot. Tesla’s gross margin on the Model 3 is currently negative.

Last year, Tesla gross profit was $2.2B, which was completely wiped out by $2.48B in sales, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses. Tesla was already underwater before accounting for R&D ($1.38B), interest ($0.47B) and other operational expenses.

Tesla is like a small retail store that’s selling its wares with a decent markup, but isn’t generating enough revenue to cover rent, utilities and other overhead expenses.

The result was a net loss of $2.24B. On the other hand, Ford posted a net profit of $7.6B. Volvo made a net profit of $1.2B on only 571,000 cars, despite $4B in R&D and capital expenditures.

Sshhhh. Don’t confuse these people with facts. Their heads might explode. Either that or they’ll try to bite your head off! 😉

“Tesla is like a small retail store that’s selling its wares with a decent markup, but isn’t generating enough revenue to cover rent, utilities and other overhead expenses.”

No, it’s not like that at all. It’s like a formerly small retail store that’s selling far more than its competitors, and can’t keep up with demand, so it keeps taking out loans to buy adjacent stores so it can keep expanding. And clueless people can stand around saying “Oh, that store is losing money every year”, because it keeps spending money to expand!


Tesla’s global automobile sales totals:
2012: 2650
2013: 22,300
2014: 31,655 (+41.95%)
2015: 50,580 (+59.8%)
2016: 76,230 (+50.7%)
2017: 101,312 (+32.9%)

And each new store, just like the first one, doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover its overhead expenses. Thus record sales accompanied by record losses.

While I don’t necessarily expect Tesla to make much, if any, net profit at this stage, it should have at least shown signs of operational leverage.

Automobile manufacturing is a very tough, capital-intensive, low-margin (net) business. Profits don’t just flow automatically once a certain volume is attained. They have to extracted with carefully developed plans, precise and disciplined execution. I have not seen any of that from Tesla.

You think Tesla’s sales increase is impressive, but it really isn’t, considering it started from near zero. Mercedes Benz brand sales increased last year by over 200,000 cars, or ‘only’ 10%. That’s twice Tesla’s total sales in 2017. Mercerdes also increased sales by 200,000 each year in 2015 and 2016.

At the same time, Mercedes’ net profit increased by 24% to $13.4 billion, last year. That’s the kind of operational and
financial powerhouses Tesla faces as it struggles at manufacturing and adds to its mountain of debt, just to keep the doors open.

Tesla spent money up front to launch the Model 3 that won’t pay off until the sales actually happen. But when they pay off, they will pay off huge.

You are worried about 2 billion dollars to launch a car that third-parties have projected will generate 80 to 120 Billion dollars in sales in the first 5 years of full production.

Sorry you are so short-sighted that you don’t understand that the costs for a launch are not paid for until the sales actually crank up. That’s how business works. In fact, it is the ENTIRE BASIS of the existence of the stock market and venture capital. Investors put in money up front in order to build a business so they will make profits in the long term after the sales come.

We have no option. The human race is at stake. Speak to the Inuit, the Vietnam farmers displaced by sea level rise causing salt infusion, all over the world we see the damage and even if we stop CO2 production today the effects will be felt for generations. Just look at the methane release in the Arctic as the ice disappears. Slow release can be eaten by bacteria but we are now facing methane release on a scale to wipe out life as we know it within five years. We Are already too late. EV are so superior and waiting lists so long but greed and propaganda are blocking conversion. Green energy EV vehicles hooked to the grid to reduce electricity cost by eliminating peek requirements are a necessary part of the solution.

Calm down Chicken Little.

None of those people, including future generations, count. They don’t buy cars, and they don’t have money in the markets. We’re having a party, and we are going to the party in cars!

In general people don’t listen to reason, they want what they want, the rest is talk.

That sounds like reason, so what were you saying?

People don’t listen, you are an example.

I don’t think Vietnamese farmers are a big car market…

No, but I bet they could be a big market for electric bikes/trikes.

The key point on Barra’s comments about EV profitability that people keep missing is she was talking about making a profit selling affordable EVs at similar prices to existing/comparable ICE vehicles, without government incentives. It’s been shown you can make a profit on EVs at high end trim levels at a premium price.

At $37,500 they make money on the Bolt, it is making money at $27,500 that is the challenge.

They do not. They sell it at a $9000 loss. What they do is make it up in ZEV credits. If they sold zero ICEs, they would not make money off their EVs, quite simply.

Don’t you follow EV news? That $9000 number has been proven wrong many times over. It’s even been proven by 3rd party independent tear downs.

That number includes the development costs of the platform and other expenses. Tesla has made a loss of about $12000 per car sold, yet selling more cars is good.

The problem is bears for a market put out misleading statistics to sway people to their opinion. The Bolt EV if it sells for its retail price doesn’t cause GM to lose money. Developing that car caused them to lose money.

GM writes that loss off on the Bolt EV, then future cars using the same platform will be profitable.

My hunch is GM went modest on Bolt EV orders knowing they would have trouble selling more than 30k in markets they were targeting (US, Canada, Korea), but making a platform they could use for future vehicles with higher sales. My hunch is Bolt EV will primarily be a fleet car and they will make other more appealing vehicles to sell in higher volumes starting this year.

If current revenue from Bolt sales do not cover the devolopment, manufacturing, selling and warranty expenses, then the nplt is losing money. The Bolt might be profitable in tbe future if, among other things, GM shares the development and manufacturong costs with additional models.

“Tesla has made a loss of about $12000 per car sold”

That number ASSumes that all the money Tesla has spent has gone towards producing all the Model S/X units that they have sold. That is completely false. Tesla has two complete factories that play zero role in building the Model S/X cars. Tesla has had no less than 7 other major product lines that they have also released or are working on releasing above and beyond the S/X cars.

That math is as bogus as when trolls said the Volt cost GM 100,000 dollars per car. Sadly, we see the same false accounting still being applied.

Good analysis and explanation. “The bottom line, however, is that UBS has calculated the production and manufacturing cost of a Chevrolet Bolt EV at $28,700. The base price of a 2017 Bolt EV, of course, starts at $37,500, with a well-equipped top-of-the-line model costing $43,000 or more.” But the vehicles themselves are profitable on a per unit basis. Especially on the premier trim, which is the preferred trim for most buyers from the dealers I have spoken to. The only “loss” is due to production scale which will take longer to pay off development costs. UBS reported that based on the Bolt EV, automakers should begin making a profit by 2023. But since GM is saying they are working on cost reductions and have some “super special awesome” new battery plans they are hiding at the moment, it is not unreasonable to assume that date could be bumped up to 2021. If GM was making only EVs then they would have a very healthy profit margin on them. But that kind of transition isn’t gonna happen overnight. “UBS has raised its forecast for EV sales in 2025 to 14.2 million – 14% of global car sales. It also predicts that automakers will… Read more »

Wade, the rality is that a even a long-in-the-tooth automobile model can’t exist without concurrent R&D spending. That Tesla chooses to omit amortized R&D from their CoGS calculation is their business, but GM does not and the UBS version of “production and manufacturing cost” is not real. Likewise they have done some magic with CapEx depreciation that omits this real cost as applied to CoGS.

UBS is also not accounting for warranty reserve, which is an essential part of CoGS. Finally, tey are treating Contribution Margin as “profit” which it is NOT.

None of the (non-China) manufacturers make a profit on their EV lines. Nobody. I don’t think China companies do, either but that is opinion.

Hi. Are you lost? You seem to think you are some fantasy place where those boring ‘facts’ matter.

“UBS has calculated the production and manufacturing cost of a Chevrolet Bolt EV at $28,700.

The base price of a 2017 Bolt EV, of course, starts at $37,500”

Too bad GM doesn’t sell their cars for retail. Or even discounted from retail. Nope, GM only gets wholesale for their cars. And then they have to throw factory incentives on the hood too, making them sell for below wholesale.

The classic problem of the Dealer sales model. GM is squeezed on both sides. On one side they have fixed contract costs for about a dozen major systems in the Bolt that are provided by LG. On the other side they are squeezed by dealerships taking their cut off the top, and by having to hand out factory incentives and discounted lease/loan deals.

They are stuck trying to make all their profits out of the thin middle, in between LG and the dealerships.

“They sell it [the Bolt EV] at a $9000 loss.”

Gosh, if they’re losing money on every one they make, then shouldn’t they stop making them immediately? /snark

Could we please stop with the kindergarten accounting?

Even if that $9000 has any basis in reality, which I doubt, you can only arrive at that by charging all the startup costs (R&D and tooling-up) for the model against a single year’s worth of sales. In case you missed it, the Bolt EV is now on its second year of production.

Realistically, GM is probably making a narrow per-unit profit margin on the Bolt EV in domestic (U.S.) sales, but it looks like the profit margin is too slim to bear the additional expenses of selling it overseas.

If GM only made a profit by selling it in CARB States where it will earn ZEV credits, then why is Chevrolet selling the Bolt EV in non-CARB States?

Over on the InsideEVs Forum, WadeTyhon has done what appears to be a well-informed analysis, and he concludes that GM is selling far more Bolt EVs than it needs for ZEV credits:

It is extremely easy…GM’s most profitable vehicle is the Silverado…The top trims MSRP are double that of the base…

The Encore EV removes SOME of the the Bolt EVs shortcomings but does not eliminate them…Despite the ICE Encore selling well thanks to their $199/mo lease, the subcompact crossover segment isn’t a top segment…It’s rumored to be FWD only without a performance option…

The good news is it appears GM has figured all this out so their next Gen EVs should be profitable…

The first of the new EVs will be announced at the New York International Auto Show at the end of this month. Watch more here: and here are the brands that exhibited cars in last year’s show:

Note than Tesla never has exhibited in this show. They ignore the East Coast buyers. Yet Nikola Tesla lived and died in New York City! The company doesn’t even respect their name source!

Tesla doesn’t go to car shows in states where it is *illegal* for them to sell cars. NY hates Tesla, not the other way around. They event sent a drug-crazed lumberjack to Santa Barbara to express their government’s hatred for Tesla. If you live there, talk to your politicians, or better yet: replace them!

I hate to spoil a fine rant against States which block direct Tesla sales 😉 …but New York isn’t one of those States.

Well, one step would be to produce enough of them.

Also what they should do is to make a cheaper and shorter range Bolt.

Because everybody knows “less range” is what sells EVs. Someday EVs may be as cheap as ICE, but reducing range is not the way to do it.

“Also what they should do is to make a cheaper and shorter range Bolt.”

The way that auto makers could ensure that BEVs will never, ever become mainstream cars, would be to give them a range too small to be practical.

It’s no coincidence that, as a general rule, EVs with longer ranges sell better! That will likely continue to be the case at least until BEVs start hitting or exceeding that “sweet spot” of 300 miles of range.

When you pay off all of your capital costs (up to 5 years after you invest) your fixedbcosts can go down by a lot! The result is lower battery costs and lower assembly costs!

“By the middle of the 2020s, the automaker will then have two separate ventures running in tandem. The China-based global electric car company and the traditional model out of North America.”

This should deeply worry any American. The future moves to China while the past stays in the USA to die.

The future of automobiles, or at least the near future, does not lie in China, with its lack of enforcement of patents or other intellectual property, its lack of automobile safety standards, its generally abysmal manufacturing quality control, its tendency to produce cars with top speeds too low for freeways, and its utter lack of ability to compete in first-world markets.

The future of China’s automobile industry almost certainly lies in China gradually albeit grudgingly adopting first-world standards for business and for auto making. Only after China makes some progress in those areas will it be able to compete in first-world automobile markets.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we choose not to patent because we don’t want to make it visible.”

I’m curious what happens now if another car company invents the same process or solution, patents it then GM’s version comes to light. Is the patent invalid because of prior art or does GM have to pay to use the patent tech? I’m just guessing, no idea really.

Patent rights go to the person or company that files for a patent. Yes, keeping something a trade secret can come back to bite a company. And yes, they can wind up having to pay another company a license fee for technology they invented, if they chose not to patent that tech.

It used to be the case in the USA that you could dispute a patent, often successfully, if you could produce evidence that you were working on the tech or process before somebody else filed a patent on it. But now the USA conforms to international standards for patents, which is strictly according to who files first.

This line here is pure FUD: “…Many people doubt GM CEO Mary Barra’s ability to pull this off since most EV adoption thus far has been fueled by government incentives rather than consumer acceptance….” since EVs are constricted by supply inventory that can’t support consumer demand.

G2, does the clear history of purchase behaviors directly connected to incentive/subsidy not indicate that this assessment is absolutely true?

Also, if they don’t matter, why does Tesla call this out in their most recent 10K:

In addition, California implemented regulations phasing out a $2,500 cash rebate on qualified electric vehicles for high-income consumers, which became effective in March 2016. In certain circumstances, there is pressure from the oil and gas lobby or related special interests to bring about such developments, which could have some negative impact on demand for our vehicles.

I wouldn’t claim it’s 100% true, but it certainly is easy to show that government incentives for EVs have a surprisingly large effect on the market.

Just look at the difference in EV sales in Georgia, before and after Georgia canceled its State EV rebate. Hong Kong’s recent end to its EV rebate is another very clear indication.

However, such government incentives should only be left in place until EVs can compete on a level playing field. I think that they should be gradually phased out starting circa 2021. But then, the U.S. government should also end the orders-of-magnitude larger indirect subsidy of gasmobiles, by ending use of the U.S. military to protect our overseas supply lines for oil, and end use of our military to prop up oil-rich despotic regimes which oppress their own peoples while the super-rich rulers keep nearly all the oil money for themselves.

Big Oil could certainly afford to hire mercenaries to protect their overseas supply lines. That money should come out of their obscene levels of profit, not out of the pocket of the American taxpayer!

I think I will wait for the new and improved Bolt.

Association does not make causation.

Regardless you are confused about what markets in the world have the most potential.

GM needs to add a higher trim level in 2019 with better seats and Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane keep. The trim level and expense won’t piss off all existing buyers of 2017-2018 LT and Premiere

Yes, I love the logic. GM is advancing ev technology by abandoning their efforts in Europe. Leading by retreating, now that’s a concept.

Yeah… Why the hell don’t they sell and advertise the bolt in Europe?
They’re only marketing this small SUV in giant SUV/pick-up/monster-truck inclined North America. And nowhere where smallish hatchbacks are common.

Total BS over and over by the laggard OEMs and their shills here.

The reason they aren’t making money on their EVs is because they produce and sell such small numbers of them that they can’t recoup their development costs AND the small production runs inhibits the lower costs of scale from large volumes.

Tesla is makes great margins on the Models S & X and once they scale the Model 3 up it will also make great margins and their battery costs are being relentlessly driven down by large scale manufacturing.

This is their major advantage vis avis the laggard OEMs who are slow walking the inevitable transition to full electrification and sub contracting out the most expensive part of the car in the batteries.

Good comment.
But itv should be written vis-à-vis.

“The reason they aren’t making money on their EVs is because they produce and sell such small numbers of them that they can’t recoup their development costs AND the small production runs inhibits the lower costs of scale from large volumes.”


Plug-in EVs will achieve price (and profit) parity with gasmobiles when they are made in similar numbers. Similarly, battery prices will continue to fall as the volume of production is scaled up. These are not two separate issues, but merely two facets of the same issue of unit price vs. volume production.

Nissan claims to be profitable today making the LEAF. They’re the only manufacturer that may be at the moment.

Profitable measured as per unit or factoring in R&D?

I doubt there is a big difference in per unit profit or loss between the Leaf and Bolt but maybe there is due to the Bolt’s longer range and TMS. Even if one or both is profitable per unit, neither is as profitable as a nicely equiped Titan or Armada. Those large ICE trucks and SUVs makes the R&D possible. Tesla does not have that option so as Steven Loveday states, they burn through cash which imo makes sense for now.

“Profitable measured as per unit or factoring in R&D?”

I wouldn’t think it would matter much by now. Nissan has had quite a few years (since 2010) to amortize away R&D costs, except for the cost of developing and tooling up for the recent change in body style.

I’m not sure how accountants handle amortization, but wouldn’t any sunk costs from 8 years ago have been fully amortized away by now, so no longer counted as an expense against current production?

I probably overestimated the 2nd gen Leaf’s cost to design, retool, and what not. It might not be too much different than gen 1? I have not been following it seriously since hearing TMS was not added.

On the other hand the Bolt design was not exactly square 1. GM carried over tons of know-how from the gen 1 Volt and the Spark EV. People criticised the Spark EV as simply being a “compliance car” but my thought with that one early on was it was important for them to gather data on for future endeavors.

I think in both cases all the R&D some might want to pin on a single EV is important for many vehivles in the coming years for each organization. I think per unit facts would be interesting to know. I find the $28,700 cost to build a Bolt cited in the Green Car Reports article confusing given their other numbers within the same article.

Regardless my hunch is the big profit comes from the big vehicles for either company.

GM…we will make some evs in a few years but meanwhile here’s a big ass truck to go grocery shopping.
Thanks for nothing…

The gov’t just put a tariff on steel and aluminum. That is going to impact car prices, cutting into car maker margins. And they can’t pass all the costs to consumers without it driving down sales.

Future looks dim for profits on anything that uses lots of steel and aluminum in the future.