The future is electric for General Motors boss Mary Barra. In November, she announced that the Detroit carmaker would boost spending on battery-powered vehicles by more than a third to $27bn, launching 30 models by 2025. In January, she promised that GM would stop selling petrol-powered cars by 2035 — sooner than Wall Street expected.
First-quarter results on Wednesday showed how far GM has to go to reach those goals. Vehicles with combustion engines are still the group’s only real motor.
At the moment, the only EV product GM has on the market is the Chevy Bolt. There was much hype when the hatchback beat Tesla’s Model 3 to market in 2016. But it has not been a big seller. GM sold roughly 9,000 Bolts in the first three months of the year. That represents just 1.4 per cent of total volumes.
Pick-up trucks and SUVs remain GM’s bread and butter, especially in the US, its most profitable market. Barra needs to create electric versions of these vehicles that customers will fall in love with too.
The big test will come this autumn when she launches the GMC Hummer. The $80,000 vehicle will face plenty of competition. Tesla and newcomers such as Rivian — as well as traditional automakers such as Ford — are preparing their own roomy workhorses.
However, investor perceptions have already shifted in favour of GM, no longer dismissed as a pre-electric irrelevance. The shares, stuck near the $40 range before the pandemic, have soared 64 per cent over the past five months. They hit a record high last month.
With the stock trading at just 9 times forward earnings, compared with Tesla’s 101 times, GM offers a bargain way to play the growing EV market. Even more so if Barra ever decides to spin off its EV operation as a standalone business, as some analysts have suggested.
Like other traditional carmakers, GM lacks first-mover advantage. But it does have scale and mass production expertise. It is as well placed as any business to challenge Tesla’s dominance.
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