Locomotive power is familiar ground for GM. In 1930, GM purchased Electro-Motive Engineering Co., along with its engine supplier Winston Engine Co.
Winston built gasoline-powered engines for Electro-Motive, but it struggled to implement its diesel engines in trains. Diesel engines were primarily used in the marine industry at the time.
GM engineer Charles Kettering helped Winston develop a lightweight, eight-cylinder, two-stroke diesel for locomotives. In 1934, the prototype powered the Burlington Zephyr train as it set a speed record from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours and five minutes, earning wide acclaim while nearly all trains were still running on steam.
Four years later, GM had begun building locomotives in La Grange, Ill. By 1962, U.S. railroads had transitioned from steam to diesel. GM's Electro-Motive Division became the world's leading manufacturer of diesel locomotives.
GM sold the Electro-Motive Division in 2005 to private equity partners after analysts pushed the struggling company to focus on its core automotive business.
GM also has a history with aviation, though its projects in that space were more turbulent.
It bought its first airplane manufacturer in 1919 and added stakes in two more a decade later. In 1933, GM bought a controlling interest in North American Aviation, which bought and sold interests in airline and aviation-related companies.
But in 1934, Congress passed the Air Mail Act, which prohibited companies that were involved in aircraft manufacturing from owning stock in an airline company. GM exited the aviation business in 1948.
Today, GM is working its way back into the aviation and locomotive fields through partnerships with companies that share its vision of zero crashes, zero congestion and zero emissions.
"Collaboration helps you get the volume as fast as possible," said Freese, whose responsibilities include overseeing GM's previous-generation battery platforms and Hydrotec technology.
"We are doing a lot of work to find the companies that have the same kind of mindset we do in how to apply the new technologies," he said. "They want to find a solution that's both feasible from a sustainability perspective, on an environmental basis, as well as on a business basis."