In a universe far away, Detroit’s main automakers are engaged in an electric pickup war. Bill Ford last year said the automaker bearing his name will eventually have an electric-powered F-series. Plans are in the works, Jim Farley, president of global markets for Ford, has since reassured Wall Street. Ford hasn’t specified whether Super Duty will be included in the plan, and no timetables have been given—but think years. This is in addition to plans to offer a hybrid F-150. So of course analysts used General Motors’ fourth-quarter and full-year 2018 earnings call to ask CEO Mary Barra if work is underway on an electric Chevrolet Silverado.
“We believe in an all EV future so you’ll have to stay tuned,” said Barra. She said electric vehicles will be profitable early next decade, helped by GM’s strong position in China and its partnership with Honda to keep costs down. To keep things in perspective, all automakers are working toward an all-electric vehicle future, and that means just about everything will have motors and batteries . . . someday. Besides the Ford model, competition for an EV Silverado is slated to include electric pickups from at least Rivian and Tesla.
For now, the new Silverado and GMC Sierra light-duty trucks have finished their ramp-up and are in full production. The heavy-duty truck changeover started last year and will hit full production in the third quarter, said chief financial officer Dhivya Suryadevara.
The automaker will lose 25,000 units of full-size SUV production this quarter with plant downtime for retooling. The new SUVs will be in full production in early 2020.
Autonomous Vehicles on Track
In other product news, Barra insists work on autonomous vehicles is on track and road testing is showing promise. GM is ready to launch Level 3 autonomous commercial robo-taxis this year, but there is no timetable for Level 4 where the car can do all the driving. “This is going to be a really important and critical year,” said Barra. “Everything is moving forward in a very positive fashion.”
Suryadevara said GM expects to spend $1 billion on Cruise in 2019. That prompted questions as to why GM budgeted $1 billion in 2018 but only spent $700 million. Barra chocked it up to frugality.
In addition to working on autonomous-vehicle technology, GM continues to petition NHTSA for permission to put commercial vehicles on the road that don’t have steering wheels or pedals.
GM posted a net profit of $2 billion in the fourth quarter and $11.8 billion in pretax profits for the year, down 8.3 percent. Strong North American results for the year will trigger profit sharing payments of up to $10,750 to UAW members.
It is bittersweet for workers, as downsizing plans put 2,800 jobs at risk. Barra said 1,100 of the impacted workers are eligible for retirement and the rest can move to other plants. She stressed the moves are necessary because GM cannot continue to operate its plants at only 70 percent utilization.