GM Invests In Next Gen Volt and ‘Two Future Products’

General Motors has said it will not be caught behind in automotive propulsion electrification, and today it again backed that statement with substantial investments for its Chevrolet Volt and “two future products” yet to be revealed.

The company said it will invest $449 million to upgrade processes at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Brownstown Battery Assembly plants.

This is the largest infusion of cash to these facilities to date, GM said. The breakout is $384 million for new body shop tooling, equipment, and additional plant upgrades at Detroit-Hamtramck, and $65 million for the next generation of lithium-ion battery production and future battery systems at Brownstown.

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“General Motors is committed to building award-winning products and developing technologies in America, which helps to grow our economy from a resurgent auto industry,” said Gerald Johnson, GM North America Manufacturing vice president. “These investments will help the next-generation Chevrolet Volt build on its position as the leader in electrified propulsion.”

General Motors points out that Detroit-Hamtramck is “the world’s only automotive plant that mass-produces extended-range electric vehicles.”

Said vehicles are of course, the Volt, Cadillac ELR, and Opel/Vauxhall Amperas. These vehicles, particularly the Volt and its Ampera siblings, are marketed to 33 countries. Also built at Dham are the Chevrolet Malibu and Impala.

The Detroit-Hamtramck facility has on site a 264,000-square-foot photovoltaic solar array that can generate up to 516 kilowatts of electricity which is enough to charge 150 electric vehicles per day.

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GM’s Brownstown Battery Assembly plant is a 479,000-square-foot, landfill-free facility south of Detroit that assembles the lithium-ion battery packs for the Volt, Ampera, and ELR. Production there started in October 2010.

The automaker says it is “the first high-volume manufacturing site in the U.S. operated by a major automaker for automotive lithium-ion battery production.”

Funding that made the Brownstown site a reality came through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding through the U.S. Department of Energy.

While GM is focusing on its current Volt, it did utter a few words as to the intent of its investments that speak volumes: “to build the next generation Chevrolet Volt and two future products.”

Speculation – some of it ambiguous and questionable – has been that more models may be announced in due time based on Voltec technology.

The hint was in the air today, as even Detroit’s mayor alluded to future product not yet revealed.

“This is a significant investment by General Motors and it helps to further position Detroit as a leader in the innovative technologies of tomorrow,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “We anticipate that the upgrading of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and the production of GM’s next-generation electric vehicles will create well-paying jobs for Detroiters. As we continue to bring real change to our city, we need partners like GM who are committed to investing in our future.”

Preparing For The Decade Ahead

Leaders including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder were on hand to show support for job creation and economic stimulus being pumped in by GM, but advanced-tech car enthusiasts have been wondering whether GM will be left behind.

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GM has been seen by some as less than fully committed as it has no full hybrids, only markets its all-electrc Spark for now in Oregon and California, and does not advertise the “niche” Volt much at all outside of California.

The $76,000-plus ELR was also seen by many as a weak response to the Tesla Model S.

While it looks like a tepid vehicle offering to some, that may be a bit harsh. The Volt enjoys an enormous fan base with owners taking it upon themselves to try and help GM’s marketers in getting the word out.

Somehow infighting between alternative vehicle fans has broken out even at this early stage. In part this has stifled or counteracted the enthusiasm and those for whom the Volt is not their cup of tea have spoken strongly against it and its maker.

GM’s official strategy has been to not display its hand, not hype its future, and some have taken this a vote of little or no confidence by GM in electrification.

Compared to companies like Tesla Motors and Nissan, both of which are bullish in their own right on EVs, some have said GM needs to show more enthusiasm.

Even with today’s announcement, “future” cars are not being named other than the already known of Volt. But to count GM out or a “second tier” player as some who’ve been fans but now losing the faith have said, this could be a mistake.

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Obviously it would be more exciting for GM to all-of-a-sudden become gung-ho about future tech and start announcing more vehicles in the works.

GM’s strategy is different, but its engineering capabilities are strong. It has a massive battery lab, and global skunk works projects underway, and it is positioned to do things when it wants to.

Whether top management of the large multinational corporation decides to implement what it is capable of does remain in question.

GM otherwise says it will be there with Tesla when the start up actually has its mass market “Gen 3″ car that itself has been delayed from projections of 2015 to now maybe 2017 or so.

This electrified vehicle market is growing – not exploding, but incrementally growing. So for GM, people can either write it off as we’ve seen some saying they’re inclined to do, or they can wait and see what’s next.