Mary Barra Global CEO of General Motors, announced a new strategy aligned with efficiency objectives, not only in the work of the plants but also in the number of versions of each model. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

Electric cars: General Motors is moving forward with a cost reduction plan in the U.S.

This was confirmed by the brand’s Global CEO, Mary Barra. The automaker is taking measures to “rebalance resources” which will involve, among other things, the relocation of engineers.

It is no longer news to anyone that electric cars are much simpler than those currently powered by internal combustion engines. Nor is it news that this mechanical simplicity is directly related to the smaller number of rotating and friction parts, in addition to the smaller overall volume of an electric motor compared to a thermal one, even in spite of the “downsizing” fashion, which has replaced larger displacement engines with those of smaller cubic centimeter capacity that gain power with a turbocharger.

Moreover, around an electric motor there are mainly cables, computers and microchips, while the associated parts of a heat engine are a cardan shaft or two half shafts, a gearbox, a clutch, an exhaust system, and several other elements.

It is because of this simplicity that the unions in the automotive industry look askance at the arrival of the electric car in the factories. And for reference it is worth remembering that Herbert Diess, former CEO of Volkswagen Group, was fired a year ago precisely for criticizing the time it took to build a car in the Wolfsburg plant compared to the efficient and faster manufacturing system of Tesla, the biggest rival that the automotive companies have for the future.

Simplicity is starting to become evident in the factories of the brands that are most advanced in converting their thermal models to all-electric. General Motors is one of them, with very specific objectives regarding its goals and deadlines to be 100% electric by 2035 in the United States, with a strong commitment to its own Ultium battery platform, and it was precisely the CEO of the brand globally, Mary Barra, who in an interview with The Detroit News, recently announced that there is a new strategy of “winning in simplicity”, which implies some changes. “GM will reduce design and engineering costs, supplier cost, order complexity, build combinations and manufacturing complexity,” Barra said.

These changes will impact the company’s workforce, though not in the way that has happened with other brands, where the number of workers was reduced, but in a relocation of about 200 positions to new assignments.

“GM is taking steps to rebalance our engineering resources to better align with our growth strategy. This will require a small number of engineers to relocate to other parts of the organization over the next few months. We will work with those affected and provide them with the opportunity to apply for open positions,” said GM spokesman Kevin Kelly.

But simplicity is not just about the jobs, it’s also about equipping the cars. This is where Barra assures that they will save even more resources in the new generation of electric vehicles and even in conventional ones, as they are targeting a 50% reduction in vehicle accessories and trims. “It will simply take costs out of every part of the business and make everything more efficient,” said the GM CEO.

Between the reduction in operating costs and the simplification of the portfolio, whereby the number of different versions of each model will be significantly reduced, GM expects to cut about $3 billion over the next two years. In this way, they hope to offset the huge investment required for the electrification of their products. Moreover, with the confirmation of the discontinuation of the Chevrolet Bolt, the brand’s most accessible car in its electric offer, GM’s plans are now to manufacture higher-cost and more profitable vehicles for the brand, a path that its arch-rival, Ford, has already set in motion, albeit at a global level.

But they are not alone on this path. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Europe, Citroën has been a pioneer in focusing its development goals for the electric cars of the future on models with much less equipment and weight. The first example was the small urban car AMI, so successful in France that it inspired Fiat, another Stellantis brand, to opt for a very similar model under its own brand, which they called Topolino.

But the idea of Citroën went further, what they have embodied with the concept called Oli, a name that seeks from phonetics, say All E (all electric), and has simple solutions such as replacing the sheet metal by corrugated cardboard pressed in some parts of the body, an interior devoid of screens and prepared so that all the information can be viewed on the user’s cell phone, or a straight windshield that aims to minimize the surface to save weight and material, but also because in that angle that usually have the front windows, there is a loss of energy for air conditioning the passenger compartment both by the effect of cold or heat.

The next generations of electric cars will have smaller batteries thanks to the massive arrival of solid-state electrolyte technology. In addition, axial-flow electric motors, which are much more compact, efficient and powerful than the current ones, will become more common and accessible. This will make it possible to fit them inside the wheels, thus eliminating the current mechanical steering systems and replacing them with cables. With these two changes alone, simplicity will become greater every day. Only time will tell when large plants will eventually dispense with the manpower they currently require.

It was with this in mind that Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation and CEO of the brand until April this year, always insisted on his idea of making technology changes gradually and not suddenly, because solving an environmental problem could mean causing serious social problems through the loss of jobs throughout the industry.

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