On Thursday, GM announced a pretty big move in promoting Pamela Fletcher, who led the team that successfully launched the Bolt EV, to the newly created position of ‘Vice President, Global Electric Vehicle Programs’. Before that, her title was Executive Chief Engineer Autonomous & Electrified Vehicles and New Technology so it can be assumed that this is more of a creation of a new group inside of GM rather than a promotion for Fletcher. She was also chief engineer behind the impressive Volt Propulsion System (Voltec) so I’d be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified to lead GM’s EV programs.
The creation of the group could be a big deal not just for Fletcher but for GM’s electric vehicle programs and hopefully, it is the first step to bigger changes within the organization. Here’s why…
Run your house off your car and an inverter
We’ve already heard that GM has two new EVs coming in the next 18 months which will be based on the “Bolt Platform” and will have a whole 20-car lineup of electric vehicles within 5 years. In fact, GM plans to go all EV. However, just about every car company with a few notable exceptions has declared their intentions to electrify their fleet but few traditional automakers have as much EV street cred. as GM. Although the company killed what could have been in the EV1, they bounced back with the Volt, Spark EV and the Bolt, albeit after seeing what Tesla and lithium batteries could do.
No other automaker, including Tesla however, has a long range affordable car available to buy right now. GM absolutely needs to capitalize on this and do so quickly. While other legacy carmakers are issuing press releases and showing off concept cars, GM’s Bolt sales are rising, although not as quickly as I think they could. Also, it appears that the Bolt is cannibalizing a large percentage of its Chevy Volt sales rather than bringing in as many non-EV folks as hoped. This week, GM announced that the plant that makes Volts (along with the CT6 and a few other sedans) would be shutting down for a few months and anecdotal information from a few Chevy dealers I’ve talked to say that Volt sales are stagnant at best.
Below Fletcher gives us our first look at the Chevy Bolt EV prototype at CES in Las Vegas in January of 2016.
I believe GM needs to take some steps at the highest level to compete with Tesla and keep its advantage over other traditional automakers that want to get into real electric cars.
GM has no infrastructure for long range charging and indeed prefers to outsource that to 3rd parties.
The Bolt’s 240 miles of range is great if you are staying within your general area or even travelling an hour or so away. However if you need to go on a road trip your options dwindle fast with the Bolt as opposed to Tesla who own a network of extremely fast charging stations.
Morgan Stanley raised its TSLA target from an underperforming $317 this week to $379 based on its charging infrastructure advantage alone. That’s a multiple billion dollar raise based on charging infrastructure alone.
GM has no cohesive plan here. You can’t even expect to get out of Detroit in all directions with the infrastructure as it exists currently.
GM gave us a statement on what we view as “the infrastructure issue”:
We know that infrastructure is an important part of EV adoption and are committed to partnering with others and helping advance the network.
While the “partnership model” may make sense on the surface at least from a fiscal perspective, it very importantly doesn’t from a driver perspective. Different charging networks require different apps and cards to operate. They aren’t in locations that are good for users and they are often user hostile.
EVGO, for instance, offers a network of DC fast chargers in both Chademo and CCS. Each station only offers one of each cable and in my experience they are offline about 20% of the time. Even worse, they shut off after 30 minutes, regardless of how much you’ve charged and require you to be on site to start the process again. EVGO doesn’t have an app and their technical department is hopeless. If they didn’t charge obscene rates (often 10x what electricity costs) they’d probably be out of business.
Chargepoint has a better network and better technology but because of its model of relying on business owners to provide space and electricity, they are often only located in places that make sense for businesses, but not drivers. So you might find a slow Chargepoint L2 destination charger at a restaurant (pointless) or hotel (smart), they aren’t located very often between metropolitan areas where they are needed for long distance driving. Chargepoint is moving into DC fast charging, but again it isn’t necessarily driver focused.
What does GM need to do here?
They need to build their own network of Fast Charging stations. Start with their huge footprint across the US: Chevy dealerships.
And pay for it because the dealers don’t want to. And not 25kW slow DC chargers that are currently being deployed at dealerships who volunteer but really fast >55kW stations and multiple at each dealership. Act like a company that actually expects EVs to take off.
Then start going after rest stops and other strategic locations like Tesla has. Money could be made off the captive audience to offset the price of electricity and the chargers. Heck, these people are going to be stuck in Chevy showrooms for 20-40 minutes. What is that worth alone?
Speaking of Dealerships…
Dealerships suck at selling electric cars. And they should suck.
If you’ve ever gone into a dealership, and I’m talking any company besides Tesla, they couldn’t make buying an electric car harder. And I’m not just talking about the normal dealership sales garage here but actively being steered toward ICE vehicles. Any why wouldn’t they? EVs are new and require some learning. More importantly, they don’t need tune ups or oil or transmission checks or exhaust checks. Even the brakes hardly ever need replacing because of regenerative braking. Basically, when you drive off the lot with an electric vehicle, you theoretically never have to return unless you need help with tire rotation and windshield wiper fluid.
The dealership basically loses a good paying customer and maintenance is where dealerships make a huge percentage of their total money. I don’t know how to fix this other than good old-fashioned cash per vehicle increases.
But that’s just part of the problem. Most Chevy dealers only keep a few Bolts on the lot. In my experience they are often not completely charged or in the case of the Volt I test drove, not charged at all. So the experience I got there was the Volt running on gasoline – an entirely different and detrimental experience vs. running on electricity.
Then there is charging infrastructure. As I mentioned above, putting in fast DC is a no brainer but often times dealerships have a single mediocre L2 charger located in one of the service bays.
Instead, why not have an EV Education Center inside the dealership where you can actually plug into a variety of chargers yourself and learn about how fast the cars charge on different systems? The first people who should be educated are the salespeople, who are often absolutely clueless about the electric vehicles they sell.
Go ahead and take a cue from Tesla here. While GM should be applauded for actually marketing its EVs instead of anti-selling them, they really need to get their A-Team involved. In fact, skip that. Chevy/GM’s advertising sucks in general. We’re currently in the midst of the painful “We’re telling normal non-actors how many awards we’ve won campaign” that is both overplayed and cringeworthy. Take a lesson from Apple here and get some inspired marketing. Bring in politics and the climate and our kids.
Right now the Bolt advertising is in places like technology magazines and it aimed at the tree hugger demographic. Green Techies already know about the Bolt and its advantages (because they read sites like Electrek). Why not pull a Tesla and call the Bolt what it is: an insanely fun HotHatch that might be Chevy’s quickest car off the line to 30mph – which is an absolute blast to drive. Not only that, it has tons of room in a micro-footprint, has Android Auto/CarPlay, great sound and is great for runs to the store or school.
And hey, after a few weeks, I even started to appreciate its sporty looks.
Tie in Automation and Car/Ridesharing
GM’s Cruise Automation is building a driverless system based on the Chevy Bolt. Why not play that up not just as marketing but make driverless a future upgrade path for the Chevy Bolt. GM is also playing with car sharing with Maven, again with Chevy Bolts. Finally, leverage the partnership with Lyft (again, GM is using the Bolt) here as well.
“Can’t make the monthly payment on the high-end Bolt? Give a few rides a month to make ends meet”
Change Politics so that people can feel good about buying a Chevy
It might sound petty to some but the biggest obstacle I had to buying my Bolt was GM’s politics. I’m not talking about GM’s controversial decision to kill the EV1 here. I’m not talking about the Ignition switch recall which GM knew about for almost a decade yet let over 100 people die. I’m not talking about GM’s lobbying to block Tesla from having dealerships in many US states.
Although that doesn’t help.
I’m talking about GM’s funding of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Global Automakers. This group lobbies against California being able to have its own lower emissions standards and more importantly it lobbies against the stricter fuel standards that the government already has agreed to.
The group also opposes the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act for good measure.
This isn’t just GM but just about every major carmaker, inexplicably including those who make EVs.
Why does GM partake in this garbage if it can hold a leadership position in electric vehicles? The optimist says that this is a legacy policy that will eventually change. However, the pessimist says that GM and others actually would rather keep building polluting internal combustion cars and putting their money in the AAM is proof of that.
Either way, GM should drop its membership in the AAM immediately.
Can Pam Fletcher change GM?
GM’s stock price has risen almost 50% since May. Things seem to be heading in the right direction in electrification, car and ride sharing and autonomy. Fletcher is trained as an Engineer along with CEO Mary Barra educated at its own GMU/Kettering Engineering school which is worlds better than being run by marketing people (see Ford/Mark Fields).
That doesn’t mean the transition will be easy and flawless. There are long-held institutions that need to be changed. We wish her the best.
DETROIT ― General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) is appointing Pamela Fletcher, who led the team that successfully launched the Chevrolet Bolt EV and created the plan to accelerate us along the pathway to our vision of a zero emissions world, to the newly created position of vice president, Global Electric Vehicle Programs.
In this new role, Fletcher will lead the vehicle program execution for GM’s entire global electric vehicle portfolio, including the commitment to launch more than 20 all-electric vehicles globally by 2023. She will report to Doug Parks, vice president, Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs.
“Nobody is more prepared to help us lead the way to a zero emissions future than Pam Fletcher,” Parks said. “Under Pam’s leadership, GM will continue to deliver electric vehicles that delight our customers and exceed their expectations.”
For more than a decade, Fletcher has been in leadership roles supporting the engineering of GM’s electric vehicle and self-driving technologies, most recently as executive chief engineer for Electrified Vehicles and New Technologies. She has led the teams responsible for the development of several of GM’s most awarded vehicles, including the second-generation Chevrolet Volt, Chevrolet Spark EV, Cadillac ELR and the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the industry’s first mass-market, long-range affordable electric vehicle. Her team also led the development of Super Cruise, the industry’s first hands-free highway driver assist system.
General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM, TSX: GMM), its subsidiaries and joint venture entities produce and sell vehicles under the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Jiefang and Wuling brands. GM has leadership positions in several of the world’s most significant automotive markets and is committed to lead the future of personal mobility. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at http://www.gm.com.