GM trolls Tesla and changes its approach with a new “supertruck”

GMC Hummer EV Edition 1

Michael Wayland/CNBC

PHOENIX – The new GMC Hummer electric pickup is different for General Motors and not just because it’s not gas-guzzling like its ancestors. It marks a major shift for the historically conservative Detroit automaker, both in form and function, according to those who have worked there.

The “highly cost-effective” vehicle is the flagship of GM’s new Ultium EV technologies and is the Detroit automaker’s new benchmark for development time. There are also other notable features inside the vehicle that insiders say speak to GM’s shift as a company to better compete with Tesla and new EV start-ups.

These features include a subtle dig at Tesla’s Cybertruck, a prominent button that currently doesn’t do anything – and a “Watts to Freedom” mode, or WTF, which launches the massive vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in about three seconds. It’s comparable to a Chevy Corvette and slightly slower than some Tesla performance models that can get up to speed in under three seconds.

“I hope there are a lot of surprising things with this vehicle because it’s all intentional,” Hummer chief development engineer Aaron Pfau said at a media event. “It’s kind of changing your concept of not just what an electric vehicle can do, but also what GM as a whole can do.”

Pfau and other members of the Hummer EV team have managed through the company’s notoriously tight lawyers and wider bureaucracy to enable quick decisions and unique features for the vehicle that GM never has. done before. They did it in a record time of 26 months. That’s about half the time of a typical vehicle program.

The overall mission, internally called “moonshot” in a nod to NASA’s first Apollo 11 lunar landing, was to quickly create a “fun” vehicle that would draw attention to the company and its new electric vehicles. , which are expected to grow to 30 models worldwide by 2025.

“The goal of this vehicle was to get people excited and thinking about electric vehicles that wouldn’t necessarily be and thinking about electric vehicles,” Pfau said. “We put everything, all the bells and whistles, into this one vehicle. It’s a bit of a halo vehicle, isn’t it? It’s not high volume.”

WTF

The Hummer team was largely given carte blanche to create the vehicle around the idea of ​​building an open-air, high-performance, all-terrain “supertruck”. Essentially, modernizing the gas-guzzling Hummer brand to create a bold electric vehicle to showcase the best of the business.

“We empowered the chief design and engineering team, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s go,'” GMC global head Duncan Aldred said in an interview. “I think people had a lot of fun with it, and I think that sums up this vehicle.”

To use “WTF,” an acronym usually associated with a vulgar term for disbelief, senior Hummer team members, with support from GM executives to do things differently, won approval after a battle with lawyers for the automaker.

“It’s such an engaging experience, and we want to break the norms,” ​​Pfau said. “We don’t want you to continue to believe that we’re this stuffy, legacy old company. In this program, we were really like a start-up, internal to GM, and that paved the way for us.”

Others, like exterior designer Brian Malczewski and vehicle dynamic performance engineer Drew Mitchell, shared similar sentiments about the program. Aldred credited Barra and GM President Mark Reuss for giving the team such freedom to operate, within reason.

“That doesn’t mean we want to do anything irresponsible by any means,” Aldred said. “But clearly we’re in an environment where we have to deliver things that customers want and that’s going to excite them. Tesla, to be fair to them, they’ve done a great job with it all.”

Some of Tesla’s features have been controversial. Notably, the revoked permission for drivers to play video games while driving, and concerns about its driver assistance systems being offered to consumers while still in testing or not properly monitoring the driver awareness.

Aldred said GM has a history of rolling out such features safely, citing third-party praise for its Super Cruise highway driving assistance system, which is available on the Hummer.

The Hummer also has four-wheel steering that allows it to make extremely tight turns and offers a “crab mode” that allows the vehicle to move diagonally. The current model being produced offers 1,000 horsepower, 1,200 foot-pounds of engine torque and 11,500 foot-pounds of wheel torque.

However, much like GM’s original Hummer vehicles of the 1990s and 2000s, such capability comes at a cost. Although it does not consume gas, it consumes a lot of energy and weighs over 9,000 pounds. That weight is about 4,000 pounds heavier than the heaviest Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup and more than double that of an average new vehicle, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Car and Driver reports that the Hummer EV pickup has a rating of 47 MPGe, equivalent electric vehicle range in miles per gallon. That’s about 33 percent less than its competitors, including the smaller Rivian R1T pickup and Ford Motor’s upcoming F-150 Lightning. GM declined to confirm the MPGe.

The Hummer Edition 1, which is currently produced at a plant in Detroit, has an electric range of 329 miles, surpassing Rivian and Ford electric pickups. Each of the automakers as well as Tesla said longer-range options of their pickups will be available at later dates.

Easter eggs

Other hidden or surprising vehicle features, also known as “easter eggs”, range from moon-inspired design elements to customizable graphics for digital auxiliary buttons. Optional images include dynamite and skulls, and a Hummer EV driving a Tesla Cybertruck.

“We had so much fun with this thing that we normally can’t do on an average car,” Malczewski said.

The Hummer EV offers customizable graphics for the digital auxiliary buttons. Optional images range from dynamite and skulls to one of the vehicles driving a Tesla Cybertruck.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

There’s also a prominent button on a central button that currently doesn’t do anything. When pressed, it says, “Your mode. Your mission. EpicIdeas@GMC.com.” GM wants owners to submit their own ideas for button functionality that will then be added via remote or over-the-air OTA update.

The button, a small “H” surrounded by three triangle-shaped markings, could be used for additional off-road or performance modes or other vehicle functionality, Pfau said.

“We’re asking for everyone’s input right now to say, ‘Hey, what are the things you want? ” he said. “We looked at all kinds of different features that we can do with the controls.”

These hidden, over-the-air features are relatively new to traditional automakers like GM, but have been a staple for electric vehicle industry leader Tesla. Barra said GM will overtake Tesla in U.S. electric vehicle sales by 2025.

There’s a prominent button on a central button that, when pressed, says, “Your Mode. Your Mission. EpicIdeas@GMC.com.” GM wants owners to submit their own ideas for button functionality that will then be added via remote update.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

it looks profitable

Since unveiling the Hummer EV pickup in October 2020, GM has received more than 65,000 reservations for the truck as well as an upcoming SUV version of the vehicle.

According to Aldred, 80% of reservation holders ordered the most expensive models of the vehicle.

“We had a goal, we had a business case, we beat that,” he said, declining to compare profitability to traditional internal combustion models. “We were very, very profitable on these vehicles even with, for example, a 40 or 50% top-end mix.”

GM promised investors that its next-generation vehicles, starting with the Hummer, would be profitable. The limited “Edition 1” launch version of the Hummer which starts at $110,295. Other cheaper versions – ranging from starting prices of around $80,000 to $100,000 – will follow.

Production is now set to begin at the former Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, less than two years after GM announced the massive $2.2 billion investment to completely renovate the facility to build a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs.

Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors

While the Hummer EV pickup is on sale, new orders likely won’t be filled until 2024 due to the number of current reservations, Aldred said. The SUV, which GM unveiled last year after the pickup, isn’t expected to arrive until 2023.

“What we’re looking at now is how can we build the maximum amount and how can we deliver, fill those bookings as quickly as possible?” Aldred said. “We are doing all the studies on this, and we are confident that we can go much faster than we originally thought, but that still means that a reservation now probably means a delivery in 24.

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