GM to step up Bolt production in drive for EV future


The Bolt, which has a range of about 238 miles, was the top-selling electric vehicle in California last year.

WASHINGTON — General Motors will increase production of the Chevrolet Bolt later this year to meet rising global demand for the battery-electric vehicle, CEO Mary Barra told energy industry leaders Wednesday.

Barra’s remarks also call for an expansion of the $7,500 federal tax credit for EV buyers, an incentive that is scheduled to be phased out for GM vehicles starting later this year.

GM built 22,398 Bolts in 2017, its first full year of production, according to the Automotive News Data Center. The automaker reported sales of 23,297 Bolts in the U.S. last year, though availability was limited to certain states until going nationwide in August.

Barra did not say how much production would increase, and a company spokeswoman declined to discuss specific numbers, citing competitive reasons.

Barra said GM can easily adjust the Bolt assembly line in Lake Orion, Mich., to expand production. The car is built on the same line as the Chevy Sonic, and the plant currently runs on only one daily shift.

The Bolt, which has a range of about 238 miles, was the top-selling electric vehicle in California last year, with 13,487 registered in the state, the California New Car Dealers Association and Auto Outlook said in a report this week.

As a bridge to all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, the automaker continues to make its entire fleet of light-duty vehicles, including pickups, more fuel efficient, she said in prepared remarks for a speech at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

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“Our commitment to an all-electric, zero-emissions future is unwavering, regardless of any modifications to future fuel economy standards,” Barra said.

Fuel economy review

Major automakers, including GM, are waiting for the Trump administration to decide in a few weeks whether to modify ambitious fuel economy targets aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions for the 2022-25 model years. The industry agreed to the efficiency and pollution standards during the Obama administration, but petitioned President Donald Trump a year ago to revisit the EPA’s final determination that the standards are feasible to meet. It argued the review was fast-forwarded 18 months for political reasons without the benefit of current data on costs, sales, technological advances and other factors.

Automakers say they just want a fair review to determine if old assumptions are still valid, but public interest groups fret that the industry is seeking looser standards to keep down compliance costs.

Barra reiterated the auto industry’s position for a single set of standards governing NHTSA, the safety regulator that determines fuel efficiency requirements; the EPA; and California, which has authority to set more stringent standards if it disagrees with the federal approach.

“One common standard allows us to advance innovation for our customers today and tomorrow,” she said.

And the standards should be modified, she added, to factor in the growing trends of shared and autonomous electric vehicles.

Last year, GM said it would eventually phase out internal combustion engines in favor of alternative fuel powertrains and in early October announced it plans to launch a mix of at least 20 new all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles globally by 2023. Early converts will be based on the current Bolt EV architecture.

Automakers sold 1.2 million plug-in electric and plug-in hybrids worldwide last year, mostly because of more affordable batteries. China and Europe are putting regulatory pressure on the auto industry to deploy EVs.

But sales of EVs in the U.S. have grown slowly, hampered by low gasoline prices, higher purchase prices and consumer anxiety about running out of fuel while driving.

To increase consumer acceptance, Barra called on Congress to increase the $7,500 federal tax credit, which begins to phase out once a manufacturer sells 200,000 units. GM and Tesla are both expected to hit that threshold later this year.

She also urged the energy industry to partner with automakers on developing a nationwide charging network for EVs and develop more renewable sources of energy.

“In the U.S., electric vehicles from all manufacturers have access to about 17,000 public charging stations, but additional stations will be needed as more consumers discover the benefits of EVs. This is particularly important because the growth of the electric vehicle market will support other innovative and advanced mobility solutions like car-sharing, ride-sharing, and self-driving vehicles,” Barra said.

“We recognize the challenge that coal still generates about 30 percent of electricity in the U.S. and 65 percent in China,” she said. “When we improve the percentage of renewable power sources in our grid, we can further reduce the carbon footprint of EVs” and create a more sustainable world.


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