GM’s Big Risk with EVs

September 5, 2021

CNBC has kind of a middle of the road look at General Motor’s transition to EVs.

While they somewhat gloss over the “Who Killed the Electric Car” EV1 story, the piece does have some good background on where the market is right now, and the challenges that all EV makers face. Always good to bear in mind that the conventional wisdom has consistently been years behind actual experience in all things clean energy.


Most long-term outlooks by definition take a quite a while to be proven wrong or right. But occasionally that happens sooner and this gives us the opportunity to consider why. OPEC’s 2015 Outlook is a good example of being wrong sooner rather than later — it expected a fleet of 4.7 million battery electric vehicles on the road in 2040, with over 98% of the world’s vehicle fleet to be powered solely by an internal combustion engine. OPEC was not alone in this view — Exxon and BP had similar numbers in their outlooks at that time.

The global fleet of battery electric passenger vehicles hit 4.7 million at the start of 2020, meaning OPEC’s 2040 scenario arrived 20 years ahead of schedule. There were over 400,000 fully electric vehicles sold in June alone; by the end of this year there will be almost 11 million on the road, more than doubling OPEC’s 2040 number.

It’s easy simply to dismiss OPEC’s outlook as some sort of hybrid between a lobbying position paper and an investment pitch, but it’s worth digging into a bit deeper to understand what went wrong.

Outlooks in this vintage tended to treat any alternatives to the internal combustion engine as options driven purely by policy compliance. The reports would set a fuel efficiency target for the global vehicle fleet in 2040 and then achieve it by adding the cheapest alternative drivetrain options today until it brought the average up to that level. 

Compliance with fuel economy or CO2 targets certainly have provided a big boost for the EV sales you see today and many automakers are increasing their supply of EVs simply to avoid paying fines. But you also need to look on the other side of the transaction, at the buyer. There you find very happy customers, who generally love the technology and are out hurriedly converting their friends and neighbors.

This is where the compliance-only view of the world breaks down, because it doesn’t capture consumer dynamics even though many of the things shaping the future of energy and transport are consumer-driven. We live in a bottom-up world.

Point is, the company appears to have placed all their chips pure EVs. I don’t understand why they discontinued to Volt – which is exactly the type of vehicle I’d be ready to buy right now. As it is, I’m forced to wait, along with millions of others, for the cheaper, longer range electrics that we are told are coming in the mid-2020s.



31. August 2021 — With Europe’s most powerful electric truck, the three partners DPD Switzerland, Continental and Futuricum have set the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the longest distance covered by an electric truck without a recharging stop. The project team reached a total of 1,099 kilometers in 23 hours — that’s just under 683 miles.

2 Responses to “GM’s Big Risk with EVs”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Fossil fuel trucks use combustion to get them up hills and use brakes to control descent speeds (while still burning fuel). I’d like to see how regenerative braking affects the cost-effectiveness of long-hauling freight over variable terrain.

  2. ecoquant Says:


    As it is, I’m forced to wait, along with millions of others, for the cheaper, longer range electrics that we are told are coming in the mid-2020s.

    I can understand a bit of the waiting for cheaper (*), but longer range? What kind of range do you think you need? With our Tesla 3 and Nissan LEAF SV PLUS, 80% of the continental United States is accessible as it is. Clever routing by Tesla or Plugshare can get you from charger to charger as long as it takes.

    Our Nissan SV PLUS is the newer of the two, and its 220ish mile range is fine. I know, of course, that like computers and cameras, if were to wait three years, the same money might triple that range. It’s okay.

    Even our modest Toyota Corolla emits 7 tonnes CO2 per annum. After the Tesla, it feels ickily dirty driving it.

    So it had to be the LEAF.

    Oh, and a carport expansion with solar panels to get us back to self-generation and powering the EVs and our home for a year.

    (*) I’m not sure I even buy “cheaper” as a justification. An F150 2021 XLT is US$37,000. A Dodge RAM is comparable in price range. Sure the EV is likely to be a sedan, but the price ranges for EVs is surely within most people’s reach, at least those who, if we could convince them, would by their EV adoption make a big dent on emissions and health.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: