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GM reveals new EV platform and 'Ultium' battery to help hunt Tesla

From the compact Chevy Bolt to the largest GMC Hummer EV, General Motors is embarking on a massive EV initiative.

GM's new EVs
General Motors

General Motors revealed its expansive future electrification plans at its historic tech center in Warren, Michigan on Wednesday. From updated battery technology to new vehicle nameplates, there's a lot to digest, so let's dive in.

The Detroit-based automaker is aiming to revolutionize its product range by introducing a dizzying array of fully electric vehicles for all its core brands. "The might of General Motors is coming to EVs," said Mary Barra, GM's CEO. The company's goal is to rapidly grow the sales of electric vehicles while making money in the process, something that hasn't proven to be an easy feat.

An EV for everyone

Revealing what's scheduled to launch in the next couple years, GM showed off a number of design studies for different vehicles at its event Wednesday morning. All its major brands were represented including GMC , Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet.

Hummer's new electric trucks will be sold by GMC dealers. Hummer is coming back as something of an upscale, off-road-focused sub-brand, the flagship of GMC. The truck model features a 5-foot-long bed and rugged styling. The SUV version shares major components but has a shorter wheelbase and body. Both versions have a removable targa roof, which is designed to be stored in the front trunk.

Cadillac showed off three different models. The Lyriq is an all-electric utility vehicle which will debut the brand's new face, a wing-like grille with light-up elements. It features an expansive interior with a 34-inch OLED screen on the dashboard, similar to the 2021 Escalade. The concept shown is handsome and, according to one designer, 95% to 98% ready for production.

A large, three-row Cadillac SUV was also displayed. An early design study, it nonetheless presages what an amped-up Escalade could look like. With vertical headlamps, a grille similar to the Lyriq's and a pillar-to-pillar screen on the dashboard, it looks like the future.

Cadillac Lyriq teaser

Cadillac showed this initial silhouette of its new Lyriq crossover.

General Motors

A new Cadillac flagship sedan was debuted as well. Called the Celestiq, this massive four-door features dramatic proportions and a long, sloping roofline. It will also be hand built to deliver the utmost in luxury.

A pair of Buick utility vehicles were introduced, as well. One is an SUV, the other a crossover. Both wear the brand's new face, which looks a bit like the front end of a new Ford Escape melded with the grille of a Toyota 86 sports car.

Finally, something a little closer to reality: An updated Chevrolet Bolt and a Bolt-based crossover were shown. Both are scheduled to launch for the 2021 model year.

All of these products are expected to go on sale by 2025, an ambitious target, but one it sounds like the automaker is gunning to hit. "We've changed the world before," said Barra, "And we'll change it again."

A new foundation

Underpinning this historic push is a new, modular electric vehicle architecture. GM's third-generation EV platform is designed to support a huge range of models, from affordable cars to pickup trucks, luxury models and even sports cars. The battery packs in this platform are designed to be mounted beneath the passenger compartment for a lower center of gravity, which improves overall handling and interior space.

The cells use a pouch design and, cleverly, can be arranged either horizontally or vertically for greater packaging flexibility. Ganged together into larger modules, groups of 6, 8, 10 or even 12 of these can be used to power a vehicle. The upcoming GMC Hummer SUV and pickup truck will each feature a double-stacked battery array consisting of 24 modules.

GM EV platform

The new EV architecture will go on to underpin an array of cars.

General Motors

Taking energy stored in those battery packs is a range of electric motors developed in house by General Motors engineers. Maximizing its versatility, this third-generation EV platform supports front-, rear- and all-wheel drive depending on vehicle line or configuration. Those Hummer models, for instance, feature two rear-mounted motors and another one up front. This triad delivers an advertised 1,000 horsepower and 11,500 pound-feet of torque -- well, wheel torque, anyway. There's a big difference.

The 'Ultima' energy-storage solution

Powering this massive EV push is GM's new Ultima battery technology. With a unique chemistry and a special design, they promise greater energy density, easier packaging and lower cost.

A lithium-ion design, Ultima mixes the internal chemistry up a bit, incorporating nickel, manganese, cobalt and aluminum, among other elements into its cathode side, so-called NMCA chemistry. A potential breakthrough, engineers have reduced the cobalt content of these batteries by around 70%, a material that's both pricey and difficult to obtain these days. They've managed to substitute it with aluminum, which is cheaper and far more readily available.

The plan is to offer Ultima batteries in packs with capacities ranging from 50 to 200 kilowatt hours. This is projected to give vehicles an estimated maximum driving range of up to 400 miles. Depending on vehicle type, this can enable acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 3 seconds.

Level II and DC fast-charging are both supported. Most of GM's upcoming EVs will feature battery packs that operate at 400 volts, however, its truck platform will run at twice that much and support 350-kW fast charging.

Mary Barra

GM CEO Mary Barra addressing media at the Warren, Michigan technical center on Wednesday.

General Motors

Cash money

Lower battery costs are key to profitability in the EV market, but so is massively reduced component complexity. Across its global lineup, GM currently offers some 555 different internal-combustion powertrain combinations right now. With this electrification push, the automaker will only have 19 battery-powered drivetrain combinations.

Between 2025 and 2030, it's projected that sales of electric vehicles will more than double, hitting an estimated 3 million units. With GM pushing out more offerings in a greater number of segments, that number could grow even more.

To deliver this EV onslaught, GM is investing a veritable fortune to develop electric and autonomous-vehicles. Barra announced today that between 2020 and 2025, the company will have shelled out some $20 billion to bring these technologies to market. This should include a $2.2 billion investment in its Detroit-Hamtramck plant to manufacture a range of electric trucks and SUVs, $2.3 billion in Lordstown, Ohio to build battery cells with its joint-venture partner, LG Chem, to name just two.