At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, General Motors CEO Mary Barra spoke at length about several facets of the current automotive landscape and revealed how GM was tackling competition and dealing with industry challenges.

GM’s transition to EVs hasn’t been as rapid as some of its competitors, but we saw signs of growth in Q1 2023, when the company delivered over 20,000 battery electric vehicles, up from just 457 a year ago. Tesla on the other hand sold nearly half a million vehicles in Q1 2023, setting a new record.

Barra, 61, has been with GM since she was 18 and has led various departments at the company during the course of her professional life.

On Delays In Production

On the seemingly slow transition towards EVs, Barra said GM spent a lot of time debating internally on when the company would go all-electric. But that debate ended when they set a deadline.

We thought the right thing to do was to get our entire portfolio, from a light-duty perspective, to be all-electric by 2035. We needed to get everyone internally to stop debating when, and start working on how to make sure we get it done.

She said that GM felt the need for a dedicated EV architecture after realizing the downsides of repurposing an existing ICE platform for EVs. GM’s all-electric Ultium platform debuted on the Hummer EV last year and is set to underpin future EV offerings as well, including the Chevrolet Silverado EV that we recently reviewed.

Constraints in scaling up battery manufacturing were also causing delays, said Barra. GM currently has battery plans in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, and a fourth one will be set up in Indiana.

What’s held us off right now is getting our battery plants running. Getting the cells [production] ramped up is constraining our Ultium platform. It’s all new manufacturing and we’re working with different suppliers.

Barra mentioned that GM is on track to building 400,000 plug-in vehicles by the middle of next year, and a million in 2025. Compared to the current portfolio, what the company will offer next year will be “dramatically different," according to her.

On Bolt EV Successor

The Bolt EV and EUV are set to retire by the end of this year, nearly seven years after first entering production in 2016. Barra previously hinted at a successor and hinted again at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She said:

There’s tremendous equity and loyalty to the Chevrolet Bolt EV. It’s currently built on our second-generation platform, but people will have to wait and see what we end up doing.

On Adopting Tesla NACS

GM recently announced that its cars would be offered with an adapter for the Tesla Superchargers 2024 onwards. From 2025, GM vehicles will get Tesla’s North American Charging Standard connector built-in. On this decision, Barra said:

We have aggregated many different charging companies into the myChevrolet, myCadillac, and myGMC apps. They [Tesla] agreed that they would provide the [charging] information that it goes through your [apps] and also that we get the same cost for our customers that Tesla customers do.” 

She added that GM’s technical team evaluated the Tesla NACs connector and found many benefits over the CCS1 standard:

When we looked at it, we thought the durability, reliability, and cost were cheaper [with the Supercharger]. So starting next year, we’ll have 25,000 chargers [Telsa and CCS1 combined] available to our customers.

On Elon Musk

When asked whether Tesla CEO Elon Musk was a partner or competitor following the NACS deal, Barra said that he was both. 

I think he’s both. It was a decision that was good for everyone. As more OEMs adapt to the standard, it’s going to be better for the consumer. Our team worked seamlessly with the team at Tesla, and they were great to work with. In a lot of spaces in the automotive industry, you compete and you partner. The industry would benefit from more partnerships.

In a separate CNBC interview, when asked about how she communicates with Musk. Barra said, “We actually text each other.”

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