GM CEO Barra Outlines All-Electric Future with AI On Board at CES 

By John P. Desmond

January 14, 2021 | Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors outlined GM’s move into all-electric vehicles including autonomous self-driving cars, in a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronic Show held virtually this week.  

While global market penetration of all-electric vehicles stands at about three percent today, “We believe that is all about to change. We see an inflection point,” Barra said. “We are transitioning to an all-electric future.”  

Through its partnership with LG Chem called Ultium announced last year, GM is producing lithium-ion batteries that increase the vehicle driving range, lower the cost and reduce battery weight, said Mei Cai, GM technical fellow and Lab Group Manager for GM. “The foundation of our platform approach is the single, common cell design that can be used across our vehicles,” she said. 

The design allows for horizontal stacking in the bottom of the chassis, accommodating six, eight, 10 or up to 24 battery modules in a pack, depending on the power requirements of the vehicle. The chassis design provides a degree of protection for the batteries.  

A software layer, called the Vehicle Intelligence Platform (VIP), keeps everything working “It is capable of managing 45 terabytes of data processing power per hour, a five-fold increase over the current architecture,” Cai said. Plans are to roll out the VIP software architecture worldwide by 2023.  

GM has offered the OnStar over-the-air vehicle communication system for 25 years, giving it a leg up. GM receives 150,000 OnStar-related calls per day and 120,000 remote vehicle unlock requests per month, said Travis Hester, Chief EV Officer for GM.  

The SuperCruise driver-assist system, announced for Cadillacs last year, includes a driver attention system that monitors the driver’s attention with a camera to ensure eyes stay on the road. Software is updated remotely. Some 85% of Cadillac customers with experience  said they will only buy a vehicle with SuperCruise on it, Hester said. The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt electric utility vehicle (EUV) is expected to be the first Chevy vehicle to come equipped with the SuperCruise system.  

Barra said GM will have invested more than $27 billion in its electric programs by 2025.  

GM will have 30 new electric vehicles available globally in the next five years, said Michael Simcoe, VP of Global Design for GM. The Bolt EV and electric utility vehicle (EUV) will be in dealerships this summer, he aid. Full-size electric pickups are coming as well.    

Barra returned to the screen and announced BrightDrop, aimed at helping delivery and logistics companies to move goods more efficiently. “BrightDrop offers a smarter way to deliver goods and services,” she said. GM has estimated that by 2025, the market for parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics in the US will be over $850 billion. The World Economic Forum has projected demand for urban last-mile delivery, field by e-commerce, is expected to grow 78% by 2030, leading to a 36% increase in delivery vehicles in the world’s top 1-0 cities. The increase is expected to cause delivery-related carbon emission to rise by nearly one-third.  

New BrightDrop EV Venture Aims to Support Delivery Logistics 

Enter GM with its electric vehicles. The BrightDrop EV1 is an electric pallet that will help to reduce package touchpoints and physical strain on delivery drivers. It has a speed of up to three miles per hour, walking speed. It can hold 23 cubic feet of cargo of up to 200 pounds. The BrightDrop EV600 is an all-electric light commercial vehicle built for the delivery of goods and services over long ranges. It has an estimated range of 250 miles on a full charge. A demo video showed the side door flipping up and the EV1s rolling out on their own. The first EV600s are planned to be delivered by the end of 2021, GM said.   

GM is conducting a pilot program with FedEX Express to test the EV600s and EV1s. FedEx couriers were able to handle 25% more packages per day during the pilot, according to FedEx. The pandemic of 2020 has accelerated growth in e-commerce deliveries to levels not expected for another three to five years, said Richard Smith, FedEx Express regional president of the Americas.  “We expect US deliveries to reach 100 million per day by 2023, three years early,” he said. “BrightDrop is an example of an innovation we are hoping will help us handle the unprecedented demand, while reducing the environmental impact,” he said.  

A second pilot is taking place this quarter, he said. 

Cruise Self-Driving Car Company Beginning to Deliver on GM’s Investment 

Barra returned and said, “Electrification will be a catalyst for a range of new experiences.” She then introduced Kyle Vogt, the cofounder and CTO of Cruise, the self-driving car company based in San Francisco that GM acquired in 2016. Cruise recently announced its first autonomous vehicle for ridesharing and food delivery, to be built at Factory Zero, the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center for all-electric vehicles. A pilot program with Walmart for delivering groceries in Scottsdale, Ariz., was announced last year.  

Cruise is providing driver control algorithms and AI for the Chevy Bolt electric vehicle being manufactured in the Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan.  “We have plenty of work to do in 2021,” Vogt said. “We burned down a lot of the technology that was holding us back in 2020. Our mission is to build a form of transportation that is cleaner, and we are on the verge of doing that by virtue of our partnership with GM,” he said. 

Read coverage of GM’s announcements at CES 2021 in the Detroit News.