DETROIT — General Motors has only one electric vehicle on sale in the U.S. today, but within a few years it's expected to have a North American EV manufacturing footprint comprising four plants, including one in Mexico.
GM last week said it would spend $2 billion to renovate its assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., for EV production, starting with the Cadillac Lyriq midsize crossover in 2022. Spring Hill will continue building the Cadillac XT5 and XT6, but as GM's largest North American plant, it will need more EVs in the coming years to use its capacity efficiently. The plant could be making three electric Cadillacs by 2025.
Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, renamed Factory Zero this month, is being retooled to build five known EVs by 2024, starting with the Hummer pickup in about a year.
GM makes the Chevrolet Bolt EV and an autonomous test vehicle in Orion, Mich., and it ended production of the gasoline-powered Sonic there last week to prepare for a crossover version of the Bolt next year. But all three of the Orion plant's EVs use GM's older battery architecture rather than the Ultium drive system that will power the Hummer, Lyriq and other upcoming EVs.
Based on the expansive electrification plans that GM has laid out, analysts say the automaker will need another plant to make smaller, mass-market EVs using its next-generation technology — and point to Ramos Arizpe in Mexico as the most likely location.
"They are consolidating plants by EV type: the larger platform EVs at Factory Zero, high-end ones at Spring Hill and less-than-Cadillac models at Ramos," said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions.
Fiorani said he expects Ramos Arizpe, which makes the Chevy Blazer and Equinox, will build two EVs by 2024.
For now, GM, which has committed $20 billion toward electric and autonomous vehicles, is willing to talk about its EV production plans only in Michigan and Tennessee.
At Factory Zero, production of the Hummer pickup is scheduled to start in late 2021, followed by the Cruise Origin in 2022. Future products also include a Chevy pickup in 2023 and a Hummer SUV and a large Cadillac SUV in 2023 or 2024, forecasters say.
Meanwhile, Spring Hill will begin building a large Cadillac electric crossover in 2024, according to Fiorani and LMC Automotive. A year later, Fiorani expects a small Cadillac electric crossover to start rolling off the line there.
Cadillac spokesman Mike Albano would not confirm any plans further out than the Lyriq, but he reiterated Cadillac's commitment to an all-electric future. Cadillac has said it could phase out all of its gas-powered offerings in favor of EVs by 2030 with enough consumer demand.
"We'll need to build those products somewhere," Albano said. "The timing is fluid. We will have a balance of traditional [internal combustion] vehicles and [battery-electric vehicles] for the foreseeable future. But as we move forward, Cadillac's future is electric."
Orion Assembly, GM's first EV plant, has a less certain future than the plants now being converted for the company's next-generation EVs. Orion — saved from permanent closure during the Great Recession by tax incentives and a cost-cutting deal with the UAW — has run on only one shift a day, a schedule that manufacturing experts say is unsustainable long term, since 2016.
"It does leave Orion exposed at this point, especially if they don't have a new product slated for them," said Jeff Schuster, president of LMC Automotive's Americas operation and global vehicle forecasting.
The viability of the Orion plant, and of GM's overall plans calling for 20 EVs globally by 2023, depends largely on market demand.
"Everything is based on how well the market absorbs these vehicles," Fiorani said. "There's a lot of EVs coming, and nobody has proven that there's a market for that."
GM is dedicating a lot of manufacturing capacity to working toward an all-electric future, but getting to the point where those plants are all being used efficiently will take time, Schuster said.
"GM is playing the long game here, but you still have to pay the bills. A significantly underutilized plant is expensive," Schuster said. "There is a risk that it's going to be like that for a few years."