In AP Interview, GM’s Mary Barra Explains Her Strategy To Catch Tesla By 2025

Now that we’re more than halfway through 2022, GM’s goal of catching up to Tesla for EV sales by 2025 seems like an impossible climb. Right now, GM still gets mocked on Tesla Twitter, especially with Joe Biden saying “Mary, you electrified the whole auto industry, you led…” in a time when GM still only sells around 1/10 the electric vehicles Tesla does. Depending on what part of 2025 you’re talking about, it’s either 2.5 or 3.5 years away, which isn’t much time to close that big of a gap.

Beating Tesla On Price

But, in a recent interview with the Associated Press, Mary Barra says she thinks they’re still going to pull it off. How? By focusing on parts of the market that Tesla is having trouble operating in. “To really get to 30, 40, 50% EVs being sold, you have to appeal to people that are in that $30,000 to $35,000 price range,” Barra told AP.

If you’ve been following Tesla for the last few years, you’d know that the company initially promised a $35,000 version of the Model 3, which it did briefly deliver on in 2019. But it wasn’t a very profitable car for the company and there wasn’t much demand for a low-range version of the vehicle. On top of that, the company had no trouble selling more expensive versions of the vehicle for greater profits. So, Tesla first took it “off menu” (you couldn’t find it on the website, but could call or visit a Tesla store to order one), and then axed it completely a year later.

Now, Tesla’s most affordable vehicle is well over $40,000, and there’s still a hefty wait time to get one in your driveway. But both the Tesla Model 3 and the average price of a new car have both left the American middle class in the dust. Tesla isn’t hurting much, as it still has a waitlist for its vehicles, while insane auto loans that were made to sell overpriced cars (especially used cars) are ending up in a boom of repossessions that could damage the whole industry.

But one thing I noticed in the dangers of the auto industry and banks face is that lower prices could make EV ownership a lot easier for a lot more people. This, of course, would boost overall EV sales and accelerate the transition. The lower 2023 prices for GM’s Bolt EVs and EUVs also seemed like a good sign for a return to sanity for the automotive industry.

It turns out that these trends, all taken together, weren’t an accident on GM’s part (assuming this wasn’t a Pee Wee Herman “I meant to do that” moment, of course).

She does offer some evidence that this wasn’t a happy accident. On top of Bolt EVs starting at $26,000 and Bolt EUVs starting at $28,000, Chevrolet is going to soon offer the Equinox EV starting at $30,000 MSRP (which you should be able to get for less in a healthy market). Unlike the slow-charging Bolt EUV, the Equinox EV will run on the company’s Ultium platform, meaning that different drivetrain options (front, all, or rear-wheel drive) should be available, but all with DC fast charging more than three times faster than the Bolts.

Given the popularity of crossovers, a car with decent charging and 300 miles of range in a small crossover configuration should prove popular and easy to sell to people who don’t want a car payment around $1,000.

Charging Stations

Undercutting Tesla on price for a viable EV is one thing, but Tesla still has another advantage that will be hard to beat: the company’s extensive Supercharger network. But, Barra points out (as we did) that GM has some plans for that, too. It is partnering with EVgo and the Pilot and Flying J truck stops to put in thousands of charging stations at 500 locations along US interstate highways.

“We are committed to an all-electric, zero-emissions future, and ensuring that the right charging infrastructure is in place is a key piece of the puzzle,” Barra said in the company’s press release. “With travel centers across North America, Pilot Company is an ideal collaborator to reach a broad audience of EV drivers.”

That’s not all. These stations will all have up to 350 kW of power, meaning that GM’s vehicle (including the Equinox EV) will have many more places to charge at their full possible speed. On top of that, every US state will be installing 150 kW stations every 50 miles along most interstates, and this is on top of many stations funded by VW Rapidgate settlement funds going in now, and the many Electrify America stations.

In other words, there will be many more CCS plugs for all of GM’s EVs to charge at in the next couple of years.

Can GM Pull It Off?

GM of course has many challenges between where it is now and actually getting to Tesla levels of EV sales sometime in 2025. The whole industry is roiled in semiconductor shortages and other supply chain issues, and it’s very tough to even find a Bolt EV or Bolt EUV anywhere right now (I know because I’ve been trying). This leads to dealers cashing in on the shortages and $5 gas, making for super high final sales prices.

Barra does address several of those issues, and how the company is working to get around them. The AP also discussed a number of other important topics that make the interview worth checking out here.

Personally, I’ve been following all of these moves (because it’s an important part of my job here at CleanTechnicaand I’ve been becoming) optimism about GM in the last few months. Weathering the Bolt EV fire recall, dropping prices to affordable levels, putting together plans for more EV charging stations, and all of that makes it clear that the company is taking EVs quite seriously. Hearing that it was all part of a coherent plan make me more optimistic.

But, I’m still hopeful optimism. Many companies have made big promises over the years, including Tesla, that have failed to materialize. But even if GM doesn’t catch up with Tesla in 2 years, just getting a lot closer would be a big accomplishment. It will be interesting to see how it all works out.

Featured image by GM.


 

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