GM CEO says electric vehicle investment was critical to company’s ‘future’

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Investors will reward General Motors for its investment in electric vehicles, CEO Mary Barra told a group of business people, entrepreneurs and others here Thursday. The G.M. board has designated…

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Investors will reward General Motors for its investment in electric vehicles, CEO Mary Barra told a group of business people, entrepreneurs and others here Thursday.

The G.M. board has designated electric vehicles as a “high priority” for the company, she said, noting the company’s announcement earlier this month of new versions of its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid and the Cadillac ELR luxury sport coupe.

“It’s about the bet I feel like we’re making for the future,” Barra said. “I’m proud of the ability to not only figure out the technology in order to do that, but to figure out the business model” so companies can buy the vehicles.

“All the investment was invested to make sure we have an alternative energy market,” she said. “The answer is going to be something that’s attractive to the consumer, affordable to the consumer and sustainable.”

Barra and GM president Dan Ammann attended the Detroit Regional Chamber’s “Chamber Forum 2015” event at Renaissance Center, a 12th-floor lunchtime keynote from U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to further discuss the issue. The two made a lengthy presentation on their vision of driving and mobility, positioning GM, as well as their unions and suppliers as essential stakeholders as the industry develops.

For example, GM is investing $500 million for a new battery plant in Michigan and is using an urban rail agency’s more than 2,000 fleet vehicles to demonstrate its abilities at battery charging stations.

The battery plant is a $700 million investment that is expected to help the company meet its goal of doubling by 2018 the percentage of electricity it uses from renewable sources. It’s also a 25-year project to help the company fill the need for 80,000 of the batteries over the next five years, when the Chevy Volt is expected to come out of warranty.

“This is the first of several examples of our commitment to change the behavior of our customers and the transportation industry on how we move around,” said Ammann, noting that changes and adjustments in lifestyles are occurring in record time for luxury vehicles.

Ammann said “equally exciting” development for him has been the relationship GM has with Mercedes Benz, the automaker on which it derives more than 1/3 of its profits.

“I’m proud of the fact that they’re involved with our product,” he said. “They have been engaged in the development of some of the technology and are part of the organization that is supporting our effort.”

GM has committed to manufacturing 5 million vehicles in the U.S. over the next 20 years.

Those vehicles will eventually be powered by a mixture of battery power and a fleet of internal combustion engine engines.

The carmaker made its first step toward a more efficient fleet with the launch of an electric compact and compact plug-in hybrid from GMC, which Ammann described as the first new vehicle in the line in decades.

The announcement came as GM announced that 2012 was its best full-year sales in North America since 2007.

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