A new report from Reuters has furthered credence that General Motors plans on allocating the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant in an effort to build a full line of electric pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. This move is said to call on the shelved Hummer marque to become reborn as an electric-only truck and SUV off-road lifestyle brand. The type that appeals to the demographic that enjoys comfortable glamping and spending $2,000 at Moosejaw without thinking twice about it. The Hummer resurrection is being referred to internally as the “M-Brand.”
Hummer, neither PC enough for the high gas prices of 2009 nor the Obama Administration that bailed out General Motors, was put up for sale ten years ago shortly after the company went bankrupt. It was almost sold to a Chinese industrial conglomerate, but things ultimately went nowhere. The brand was shuttered shortly after.
According to the report, the family of vehicles are said to ride on an upcoming electric vehicle architecture known internally as the BT1 platform, referred to internally as “Project O.”
Curiously, former Chevrolet Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser moved from overseeing the iconic muscle car program to one of GM’s top secret BEV programs. Our own sources tell us that he is now overseeing the BT1 program, hence the “Project O” codename. He was once spotted driving a Tesla Model X for benchmarking purposes.
T1 is known as the architecture that underpins the new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, as well as the upcoming family of SUV models consisting of the 2021 Chevrolet Suburban, 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe, 2021 GMC Yukon family, and 2021 Cadillac Escalade.
This would also mean that the next-generation Cadillac Escalade will have both a fully electric variant as well as a high-octane performance model with the supercharged LT4 V8 engine first seen in the third-gen Cadillac CTS-V, C7 Corvette Z06, and sixth-generation Camaro ZL1.
The “B” in BT1 is assumed to stand for “Battery Electric Vehicle” or BEV for short. This EV specific architecture is reportedly expected to borrow heavily from T1, while utilizing a skateboard-style battery pack in place of frame rails. GM President Mark Reuss said in June at a UBS conference that the company’s scalable EV architecture will be flexible enough to build a variety of body types in different sizes, with the capability of providing FWD, RWD and/or AWD vehicles.
Reuters says that we can expect the first BT1 vehicle in 2021, which will be an electric pickup truck. This is expected to be the reborn Hummer, and it will be a low-volume production vehicle. By 2022, there will be a more performance-oriented version of this truck, with an E-SUV based on the truck coming by 2023. By that same year, GMC will have an electric pickup, presumably an electric Sierra, while Cadillac will have an electric Escalade SUV.
First, to put this plan into action, some 48,000 GM hourly workers need to vote on a proposed labor deal that would end a month-long strike. On the line is the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, where these BT1 vehicles are expected to be built. BT1 is said to inject a $3 billion investment into the Detroit-Hamtramck plant to make electric trucks and vans. The plan is part of a broader $7.7 billion proposed investment in GM’s US-based plants over the next four years, according to a tentative labor deal between the automaker and the United Auto Workers union.
Will It Work?
Now, there are a lot of mysteries here. For one, market demand for these full size electric vehicles is completely untested, and General Motors is diving in head first. Going forward with such ambitious plans into the big unknown could mean that the automaker may not find the volume it’s looking for in order for the program to be profitable. We’ve seen this twice already, with the first- and second-generation Chevrolet Volt, where sales forecasts fell well, well short of expectations. Niche and startup EV truck and SUV brands such as Bollinger and Rivian aim to deliver low-volume lifestyle electric trucks, while GM has historically only brought products to market if the economies of scale are expected to be large enough. That’s how a vehicle such as the C8 Corvette Stingray is priced so far below its more exotic rivals from brands like Porsche.
This could actually be one of the main reasons Hummer could come back – acting as a fourth truck/SUV brand alongside Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC that could fortify both the necessary production and sales volume for this high-risk program to be profitable. That said, we imagine the pricing of these vehicles to command a substantial premium to their more traditional gas-powered stablemates.
The pickups and SUVs in the BT1 family will use a new dedicated electric vehicle architecture, including a “skateboard” chassis that bundles electric motor and batteries, the sources said. AutoForecast Solutions analysts were quoted in the report in saying that the these GM electric trucks would likely sell at around $90,000 and beyond $100,000. According to the report, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly will have the volume to produces about 80,000 of these vehicles a year when it reaches full production capacity by 2024.
These electric behemoths could be used as a hedge against high gas prices, as well as regulation-happy states like California, which has recently contested with the Trump Administration over emissions standards. At the same time, GM seems to be taking a page out of Tesla’s playbook, where vehicles command luxury-vehicle price points for the privilege of driving something with beta software programs. Wall Street seems to like Tesla, despite the company remaining highly unprofitable. GM’s stock, meanwhile, has seen little to no movement under its current leadership and its billions in recent annual profits.
To support these electrified ambitions, GM reportedly plans to open a battery plant near its shuttered Lordstown, Ohio, factory that allegedly would be a joint venture, and is part of the company’s larger plans to invest another $1.3 billion in non-GM plants in the United States over the next four years.
Lastly, BEV propulsion systems historically have not responded well to the stressful demands that pickup trucks and SUVs need to meet. These include towing, hauling and variable weather conditions, to name a few things. This means that capabilities will likely take a huge hit, despite BT1 vehicles commanding such a high price point, and this could diminish their trendy appeal pretty quickly. General Motors may have some sort of breakthrough battery technology on the way, but AutoForecast Solutions analysts so far point to that not being the case. According to Roadshow, analysts believe we could be 15-20 years out from that, if ever.