GMC Hummer EV’s warp-speed development may be a template for many more GM EVs

On Thursday, General Motors confirmed an upgraded plan for making a million electric vehicles by the middle of the decade, and setting itself up for an even more significant transformation by the end of the decade.

The $27 billion plan includes the development of next-generation battery cells and the promise of 30 new fully electric models introduced by the middle of the decade with 20 of those headed to North America. But as executives talked through a presentation deck at the Barclays Automotive Conference, the backdrop and the message served up by a few of the slides was the most intriguing part. 

GM execs and upcoming Ultium EVs

GM execs and upcoming Ultium EVs

Included behind CEO Mary Barra, VP for development Doug Parks, and chief EV officer Travis Hester were three vehicles: the Chevrolet compact electric crossover, the Chevrolet Avalanche-like electric full-size pickup, and the Hummer EV SUV—each among the 11 new Ultium EVs Green Car Reports saw in person or in renderings at a no-cameras preview earlier in the year. 

GM EVs pulled ahead - November 2020

GM EVs pulled ahead – November 2020

There’s a story GM wanted to tell with these three models, and one of the slides (above) helped. The company now claims to have accelerated the timeline of a handful of the EV entries slated for the next few years by significant amounts. In addition to pulling up the Cadillac Lyriq by nine months to a first-quarter 2022 arrival, it has hastened the Chevy pickup ahead by 11 months and the crossover up by 21 months from the original production timeline. GMC’s second electric pickup was the most surprising; GM claims it has been pulled ahead by 40 months. 

GM chief EV officer Travis Hester with Chevrolet electric truck

GM chief EV officer Travis Hester with Chevrolet electric truck

The most extreme case may be the 2022 GMC Hummer EV—already shown in sport utility truck form, but also due soon to be detailed in shorter-wheelbase SUV form. GM claims to have cut its development time from the typical 50 months to just 26 months. 

The Hummer EV was just green-lit for development in spring 2019, and yet it will be delivered in fall 2021. At the vehicle’s official reveal less than a month ago, we were shocked to learn from its chief engineer Al Oppenheiser that the Hummer EV hadn’t been fully developed yet and there was not yet a drivable development vehicle. 

2022 GMC Hummer EV SUV profile

2022 GMC Hummer EV SUV profile

How is this pace at all possible? In a Q&A session for the media held earlier this week before the presentation, Parks suggested that the Hummer EV might not be an anomaly, and GM is rethinking its normal vehicle-development pace as it applies to EVs. 

Parks explained that usually development involves starting with existing powertrains, and various stages of engineering work and prototyping, but because GM has no products out there like them they’re “empty spaces.”

2022 GMC Hummer EV

2022 GMC Hummer EV

Much of the battery and propulsion work in the Hummer EV was already done before the project existed.

“We’d been working on Ultium for a while, because frankly you have to get those cells through a bunch of development phases in the drive units,” Parks said. “And now that we’re getting much closer and have some production parts that we’re working on as part of the GMC Hummer EV, etc., that’s ready.”

GM then took what it called “a highly empowered team”—in the case of the Hummer EV, one made up of former members of the Corvette team—and told them they didn’t have to jump through some of the normal corporate hoops. 

“We said, you’re empowered to do what’s right for the vehicle and go fast and make it profitable,” he said. “And we really let the team run.”

2022 GMC Hummer EV

2022 GMC Hummer EV

“Frankly, the Hummer EV team is killing it; this 26 months is real,” Parks added. “We just got some of our first production parts, and while we’ve got our first production build that we’re right on the verge of, we had zero parts made for this unit.”

To put it simply, Parks explained that instead of doing one phase and then the next, they did a lot of things in parallel, with less iteration. The Hummer EV team is now on the verge of its first production build, and it had zero parts late for the event. 

2022 GMC Hummer EV

2022 GMC Hummer EV

“And so that development process is what we’re now going to be able to apply to many of the other EVs that we’re doing—and again, we’re doing it to be fast and to get the vehicles out there,” he said.

So when will that more work-oriented Chevy pickup and affordable compact SUV shown in the background arrive? We’d place our bets on less than 26 months from now, for sure. 

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