On the same day that Rolls-Royce unveiled the Spectre, its first electric model, to the world, Cadillac also presented its first all-electric ultra-luxury sedan model – the CELESTIQ. Described as the most technologically advanced Cadillac ever, it leads the brand into the electrified future built on legacy, cutting-edge technology and personalized luxury.

While the basic structure and bodywork of the CELESTIQ will come from a series production process, each unit will be personalised to the customer’s specific requirements. No two cars will be alike as customers will work directly with their dealer and Cadillac designers to have what the company says will be ‘unprecedented levels of personalization tailored to reflect the owner’s tastes’.

“CELESTIQ is the purest expression of Cadillac, acknowledging our incredible history and driving us to a bolder and brighter future,” said Global Vice-President of Cadillac, Rory Harvey. “It is a completely bespoke work of automotive art, built around the most advanced and innovative technology that we have ever engineered into an automobile.”


Honda has revealed the exterior and interior styling of its Prologue battery-electric vehicle (BEV) that will go on sale in North America in 2024. The model, with a SUV bodystyle, is one of the two BEVs which the Japanese carmaker will co-develop with GM.

GM will supply its flexible global BEV platform powered by its proprietary Ultium batteries, and also build the BEVs at its plants in North America. The second model is planned for launch in 2027, by which time the companies will be looking at the start of ‘global production of millions of BEVs.


General Motors is fully committed to going electric as quickly as possible and all its divisions are headed in the same direction. While some of the divisions have shown concept cars, Chevrolet has revealed a production-ready electric model – the 2024 Blazer EV.

“The 2024 Blazer EV sets a new tone for electric SUVs, with options and intuitive technologies that help position Chevy for leadership in one of the fastest-growing EV segments,” said Scott Bell, Vice-President of Chevrolet. “Along with the all-new Silverado EV and Equinox EV coming next year, we are making great strides in offering more choices for zero tailpipe-emissions vehicles — choices that make switching to an EV easier than ever.”

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV

The Blazer EV is not a combustion-engined Blazer with an electric powertrain. It was developed independent and uses GM’s modular Ultium Platform which has been designed for multiple applications. The Ultium platform and its batteries are the heart of GM’s strategy. The batteries are unique in the industry because the large-format, pouch-style cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. This allows engineers to optimize battery energy storage and layout for each vehicle design.

The athletic styling of the Blazer EV mimics that of the 2018 Blazer – with  performance cues inspired by the Camaro and Corvette. Each version has a muscular, athletic profile with taut  converging body lines. Prominent front-fender extractor vents associate with Chevy’s motorsports legacy.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV

The designers elevated the Blazer EV’s presence with a bold, dual-element LED exterior lighting signature that also has choreographed lighting sequences. These activate when the driver approaches or walks away. The effect features a full light bar and illuminated Bowtie emblem on the front. The front lighting also conveys the state of charge while the vehicle charges. A sequential orchestration of the lighting increases in speed and intensity as the battery’s charge increases.

Inside, the cabin also makes a modern design statement. Like the exterior, many of its elements draw inspiration from Chevrolet’s sportscars and performance heritage, such as a flat-bottom steering wheel and sculpted vents inspired by turbines.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV

An expansive, 17.7-inch-diagonal colour touchscreen is the focal point of the cabin and the command centre for the vehicle’s infotainment system. A large 11-inch-diagonal colour Driver Information Centre in the instrument cluster complements the central touchscreen.

With design and engineering developed to live up to the legacy of the iconic Super Sport performance designation, the Blazer EV SS offers customers the most powerful experience in the line-up. It features an exclusive performance AWD propulsion configuration designed to produce up to 557 ps/878 Nm, and unique WOW (Wide Open Watts) mode enabling very quick acceleration.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV

When it comes to charging, the Blazer EV uses an 11.5 kW onboard AC charging module for home charging and public charging, along with high-speed DC public fast-charging capability of up to 190 kW. It can recharge in about 10 minutes and get around 125 kms of range. A fully charged battery pack is claimed to be good for 515 kms.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV

A major enabler of the Blazer EV’s technologies is Ultifi, GM’s new end-to-end vehicle software platform. It separates the vehicle’s software from the hardware to enable the frequent and seamless delivery of software-defined features, apps and services to customers over the air (OTA). Ultifi will allow customers to upgrade and personalize their vehicle as improvements and new features become available over time.

Besides four different versions for sale to the public, Chevrolet will also be offering a pursuit-rated Police Pursuit Vehicle (PPV) model for police fleet applications. These PPVs will have the largest Ultium battery in the line-up and a specific interior designed for police officers with ample room to accommodate emergency equipment and gear. To go on sale from mid-2023, the Blazer EV will have prices ranging from US$44,995 to US$65,995.

2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV

GM looking forward to all-electric future with Ultium batteries

It looks like the Chinese carmakers are steadily establishing their presence in the ASEAN market as sales are growing for some of the brands that have entered a few years earlier. This is not their first approach as they began to appear in the 2000s. But back then, their products were not of the same quality as what consumers had come to be used to from the Japanese and Korean brands, so they quietly faded away. Chery was one of them, having tried its luck in Malaysia and even did some local assembly but pulled out in the end.

Today, the Chinese carmakers have progressed greatly and have improved quality as well as made technological advancements themselves. With the government having given a push towards electric vehicles (EVs), they have had to develop EV technology as quickly as possible while competing with each other for a slice of the biggest vehicle market in the world.

2022 Wuling Air EV

Having their own EV technology and products is timely, of course, as government around the world are pushing the auto industry to take definite action to address climate change. Going electric is one approach and countries like Indonesia have offered attractive incentives that are drawing carmakers there to grow their EV business.

Wuling Motors, through its SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW) joint-venture with General Motors, is aiming to do just that and develop Indonesia into a major overseas market. Over the past 15 years, it has gained experience in export sales, having sold one of the most popular small vans in Asia. In 2021, SGMW exported over 140,000 units from China to more than 40 countries and regions.

2022 Wuling Air EV

Now it intends to also promote its new range of models developed on its Global Small Electric Vehicle (GSEV) platform. And for the debut of its first global-market zero-emission vehicle – the Wuling Air EV – it chose Indonesia for the world premiere. Apart from the country’s attractive incentives for EV players, SGMW already has a significant presence and a manufacturing plant.

The Wuling Air will be the first EV model that SGMW will sell outside China and has been selected as the official car partner for the 2022 G20 Summit to be held in Indonesia this November. It is likely that the model will be assembled in Indonesia where there can be significant economies of scale and flexibility.

2022 Wuling Air EV

Furthermore, with the provisions of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement, the EV can be exported to other markets in the region duty-free. Of course, for Malaysia, that will be the case anyway since there is presently full exemption on import duties for BEVs (battery electric vehicles).

It is likely that SGMW will produce LHD versions in China for the domestic market, complementing the joint venture’s current EV portfolio that has the Wuling Hong Guang MINIEV, Wuling Nano EV and Baojun KiWi EV. Indonesia could thus become the production hub for RHD versions.

2022 Wuling Air EV

The Air EV is the Wuling’s fourth next-generation vehicle to adopt the brand’s new look with a new design language. It has a modern appearance that is somewhat different from other small EVs, with a front fascia that features a horizontal bar extending to the sideview mirrors, and integrated LED daytime running lights.

Size-wise, there are two versions – one with a long wheelbase (LWB) and the other with a shorter wheelbase (SWB). From information released in Indonesia, it appears that only the 4-seater LWB will be offered outside China. This has a length of 2974 mm, width of 1505 mm and height of 1631 mm with a wheelbase measuring 2010 mm. The SWB version can accommodate only two persons and is 2599 mm long with a wheelbase of 1635 mm.

2022 Wuling Air EV

These are certainly very small cars as a Perodua Axia is 3645 mm in length. And while it is often said that an EV doesn’t have a heavy engine, the lithium iron phosphate battery pack is still heavy. In spite of being smaller than an Axia which weighs 825 kgs to 860 kgs, the Air EV LWB weighs 860 kgs, while the SWB version is 100 kgs less.

The powertrain will be fairly basic with a single motor driving the front wheels. There will be a choice of 30 kW or 50 kW and also Standard and Extended ranges of 200 kms and 305 kms, respectively. Top speed is claimed to be 100 km/h which is probably as fast as you would want to go in such a small car.

2022 Wuling Air EV

The price in Indonesia is rumoured to start from 275 million rupiahs (about RM84,000) and while that is down to the Honda City/Toyota Vios level in Malaysia, Perodua and Proton offer cheaper cars – and they are more spacious too. So we can’t see the Air EV coming in and besides, with the still-limited recharging network, many will be hesitant to invest in a car which could be stuck in some kampung in the rural areas because its battery can’t be recharged. Presumably, Indonesia’s plan to raise EV adoption will see a rapid development of the recharging network around the country.

The reality of producing and running electric vehicles

While most carmakers have formed alliances and even merged to face the new challenges of the 21st century, Honda has often chosen to proceed alone with its own resources. It has collaborated with other carmakers from time to time in specific areas, and often, it has been other manufacturers wanting to have access to Honda’s technology or products.

However, with the electrification of the industry which has a degree of urgency (with targets set for the end of this decade), even independent-minded Honda has seen it more practical to have closer working relationships with other carmakers. Other Japanese companies have already formed their own collaborative groups – Nissan and Mitsubishi in the alliance with Renault, and Toyota having joint programs with Mazda, Subaru, Suzuki and of course, Daihatsu and Hino which are within its own group.

With an eye on the US market, Honda has chosen to expand its relationship with General Motors to co-develop a series of affordable electric vehicles. This follows on from the 2020 announcement to jointly develop two all-new electric vehicles for Honda, based on GM’s flexible global EV platform powered by proprietary Ultium batteries. The EVs will be manufactured at GM plants in North America with sales expected to begin in the 2024 model year in North America.

For this new joint venture, the EVs will be based on a new global architecture using GM’s next-generation Ultium battery technology. GM’s Ultium batteries are unique in the industry because the large-format, pouch-style cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. This allows engineers to optimize battery energy storage and layout for each vehicle design. The cells use a proprietary low cobalt chemistry and ongoing technological and manufacturing breakthroughs will drive costs even lower.

GM’s Ultium battery pack.

Ultium energy options range from 50 to 200 kWh, which could enable a GM-estimated range up to 640 kms or more on a full. Motors designed in-house will support front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive and even performance all-wheel drive applications.

A joint statement says that there will be ‘global production of millions of EVs starting in 2027’ and these will include compact crossover vehicles which today account for the largest segment in the world, with annual volumes of more than 13 million vehicles.

Honda will use GM’s factories in America to build the new EVs, which will also be built in other markets as well.

Both companies will contribute their technology and design expertise as well as sourcing strategies. By standardizing equipment, it is expected that world-class quality, higher throughput and greater affordability can be achieved. A flexible, modular approach to EV development is expected to enable  significant economies of scale for lower production costs.

“Honda is committed to reaching our goal of carbon neutrality on a global basis by 2050, which requires driving down the cost of electric vehicles to make EV ownership possible for the greatest number of customers,” said Toshihiro Mibe, Honda’s President & CEO. “Honda and GM will build on our successful technology collaboration to help achieve a dramatic expansion in the sales of electric vehicles.”

Prototype of Prologue SUV BEV.

“The progress we have made with GM since we announced the EV battery development collaboration in 2018, followed by co-development of electric vehicles including the Honda Prologue, has demonstrated the win-win relationship that can create new value for our customers,” added Shinji Aoyama, Senior Managing Executive Officer at Honda. “This new series of affordable EVs will build on this relationship by leveraging our strength in the development and production of high quality, compact class vehicles.”

Earlier projects involving the two carmakers have focused on electric and autonomous vehicle technologies. In 2013, the two companies began working together on the co-development of a next-generation fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technologies. In 2018, Honda joined GM’s EV battery module development efforts.

They also have an ongoing relationship with Cruise and are working together on the development of the Cruise Origin, one of the first purpose-built fully autonomous vehicles designed for driverless ride-hail and delivery. The Cruise project, which involves Microsoft, is part of Honda’s new mobility business in Japan.

Cruise Origin autonomous vehicle.

GM and Honda will also discuss future EV battery technology collaboration opportunities, to further drive down the cost of electrification, improve performance and drive sustainability for future vehicles. GM is already working to accelerate new technologies like lithium-metal, silicon and solid-state batteries, along with production methods that can quickly be used to improve and update battery cell manufacturing processes. Honda is making progress on its all-solid-state battery technology which the company sees as the core element of future EVs.

“GM and Honda will share our best technology, design and manufacturing strategies to deliver affordable and desirable EVs on a global scale, including our key markets in North America, South America and China,” said Mary Barra, GM Chair & CEO. “This is a key step to deliver on our commitment to achieve carbon neutrality in our global products and operations by 2040 and eliminate tailpipe emissions from light duty vehicles in the USA by 2035. By working together, we’ll put people all over the world into EVs faster than either company could achieve on its own.”

Honda will stop selling models with combustion engines from 2040, range to be fully electric


Since being established 73 years ago, Honda Motor has been able to remain independent instead of becoming part of a bigger group. On its own, it has been able to successfully manage its business and endure even the most challenging periods without having to surrender its independence. However, the 21st century sees the auto industry changing and with the move towards electric vehicles (EVs), the cost of developing entirely new technologies is very high. In April, Honda became the first Japanese automaker to declare its intention will stop selling combustion-engines vehicles by 2040.

So even though Honda has preferred to be a ‘lone ranger’, it has been forming strategic alliances with some companies in the area of EVs because it is crucial to remain competitive in the new field, and sharing resources is more realistic. Honda has already agreed with General Motors to jointly develop two all-new EVs for Honda’s range, based on GM’s global EV platform. The EVs will be manufactured at GM plants in North America with sales expected to begin in 2024 for that market.

New joint-venture company
On another front, Honda will be working with Sony Group Corporation to develop EVs as well. The two companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that outlines their intent to form a joint venture company through which they plan to engage in the joint development and sales of high value-added battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and commercialize them in conjunction with providing mobility services. The new company is expected to be established before the end of this year.

The Honda e, a fully electric EV model, is already on sale in Europe.

This alliance aims to bring together Honda’s mobility development capabilities, vehicle body manufacturing technology and aftersales service management experience, while Sony has expertise in the development and application of imaging, sensing, telecommunication, network, and entertainment technologies.

Sony has already developed EVs
Honda has already developed a few EV models for sale, with the Honda e having received a good response in Europe. Sony has also been developing its own EVs, with two prototypes displayed earlier this year at CES 2022 in Las Vegas. The prototypes appear to have reached quite an advanced stage and have been shown in real-world road-testing.

Sony’s two EVs which were shown at CES 2022 earlier this year.

While Sony announced in January that it would start a new unit called Sony Mobility which would handle commercialization of EVs, this move may well have been too challenging for the company which does not have experience in making cars. Honda, on the other hand, has been producing many fine cars with its decades of experience. As Sony would have vast experience in electronics, which are dominant in EVs, its expertise will be very useful.

So it remains to be seen whether Honda will adopt Sony’s concepts – called VISION-S – or come out with a new design. If they want to do a new design, they have less than 3 years to do so as the plan is to start sales of the first model from the new company in 2025.

A new brand name?
There is also a possibility that the new EVs will have separate branding rather than be sold as Honda or Sony products. This is because the agreement is for the new company ‘to plan, design, develop, and sell the EVs’. It is agreed that Honda will be responsible for manufacturing the first EV model at its own factory.

Honda has had many decades of experience manufacturing cars. not only in Japan but also in other countries.

“The New Company will aim to stand at the forefront of innovation, evolution, and expansion of mobility around the world, by taking a broad and ambitious approach to creating value that exceeds the expectations and imagination of customers. We will do so by leveraging Honda’s cutting-edge technology and know-how in relation to the environment and safety, while aligning the technological assets of both companies. Although Sony and Honda are companies that share many historical and cultural similarities, our areas of technological expertise are very different. Therefore, I believe this alliance which brings together the strengths of our two companies offers great possibilities for the future of mobility,” said Toshihiro Mibe, Director, President, Representative Executive Officer & CEO of Honda Motor.

For those who have not followed the changes in Cadillac, the quintessential American automobile brand, their products are no longer the huge and heavy ‘aircraft carriers’ they once were. In fact, since the 1980s, the General Motors subsidiary has been ‘downsizing’ in response to energy concerns and the need to look for socially acceptable.

It now has to transform again for the electrified era and future personal mobility. With the vast resources of General Motors to draw on for development of entirely new electrically-powered models, Cadillac will soon be coming out with new cars that maintain its reputation of premium luxury travel.

2022 Cadillac InnerSpace concept

Vision of personal autonomous future mobility
At CES 2022 this week, the company showed one vision of personal autonomous future mobility with the InnerSpace concept. This is a futuristic 2-passenger fully electric and autonomous luxury vehicle which is part of the brand’s Halo Concept Portfolio. This portfolio represents future possibilities with a range of personal autonomous options and advanced connected vehicle features. Leveraging cutting-edge technologies designed to enhance the passenger experience along with the increased personal time enabled by fully autonomous mobility, the InnerSpace grows the Halo Concept Portfolio.

“The vehicles of the Cadillac Halo Concept Portfolio are designed to provide effortless travel through extraordinary means,” said Bryan Nesbitt, GM Executive Director, Global Advanced Design and Global Architecture Studio. “They are visions for the next decade and beyond, showing the possibilities enabled by General Motors’ comprehensive approach to autonomous drive technology with the goal of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”

Cadillac Halo Concept Portfolio
Cadillac introduced the first two Halo concepts last year at CES: the PersonalSpace, a single-seat, personal vertical take-off and landing concept designed to literally move its passenger above the din and congestion of ground traffic; and the SocialSpace, a roomy, autonomous vehicle for up to six, designed to help passengers relax and recharge.

Conceptually, the portfolio repurposes how passengers use their time while traveling, providing a space for solace and respite. Full autonomy relinquishes the responsibility of vehicle control while dramatic design and advanced technologies maintain the sensation of arriving in a Cadillac.

2022 Cadillac InnerSpace concept

In fact, technologies such as biometric input and AI machine learning are harnessed and complement Cadillac’s luxury environment to support unique wellness experiences. Through software-defined features and advanced vehicle connectivity, the Concept Halo Portfolio could offer each passenger a truly personalized experience made possible by GM’s Ultifi software platform. The experiences showcased within the Halo Portfolio demonstrate the potential as both Ultifi and autonomous technology continue to evolve.

“Electrification and autonomous driving will fundamentally change the role of vehicles and the experiences customers have with them,” said Nesbitt. “We’re exploring where that will go with these innovative concepts, envisioning mobility as an ally of wellness, giving customers the ultimate luxury, more personal time rather than taking it.”

Reimagining the luxury experience
Early in Cadillac’s history, compact and personal Runabout models enabled customers to explore new and wider horizons. The new InnerSpace concept reimagines that as a vision, with a fully autonomous experience that allows the two occupants to focus on their journey rather than driving.

2022 Cadillac InnerSpace concept

The vehicle’s fully autonomous capability means they can give more attention to the world around them. Inside too, they will have more personal and tailored experiences that add new dimensions to motoring. AI-driven biometric input and interfaces, accessible via a large, immersive and panoramic SMD LED display, will allow passengers to select from Augmented Reality Engagement, Entertainment and Wellness Recovery themes for their drive. Thanks to Ultifi, Cadillac engineers and authorized third parties will be able to innovate additional themes and features that can be added over the air.

With the Ultium Platform’s wireless battery management system, the battery modules are spread about the concept vehicle, which allowed designers to optimize the cabin for spaciousness and serenity. This design freedom also allowed for a low-profile floor, providing an extremely low, sports car-like seating position.

2022 Cadillac InnerSpace concept

The InnerSpace design features expansive, panoramic glass on the roof and part of the body sides for almost unimpeded views. The roof opens with the doors for more comfortable entry and egress, and the seats also pivot outward when the doors are opened, enhancing the effect.

Even the tyres are designed to contribute to its solace. Specially developed by Goodyear for electrified vehicles, they feature SoundComfort technology designed to help mitigate soundwave resonance within the tyre for a quiet ride, while soybean oil and rice husk-based silica replaces petroleum-based oil as a key ingredient in their construction. And because autonomous driving takes away some of the driver’s connection with the road, Goodyear SightLine, Goodyear’s tyre intelligence technology, conveys important information about pressure, temperature, load and other performance factors.

2022 Cadillac InnerSpace concept

2022 LYRIQ will be first model in Cadillac’s electric-only range moving forward

General Motors (GM) was the market leader in the US market since 1931 but last year, its place was taken not by Ford, Chrysler or even Tesla but by a foreign brand – Toyota. The Japanese carmaker reported sales of 2.332 million vehicles in 2021, beating the 2.218 million units that GM announced the same day. A year earlier, GM had still held No.1 spot with 2.55 million units while Toyota did 2.11 million units, and Ford reported 2.04 million units.

Understandably, Toyota has not played up on its ascent to No.1 position – the first foreign carmaker to do so – since it can be a sensitive issue among Americans. Although it imports many vehicles, it also has huge factories in America that manufacture a number of models there, so they are as American as those from the Big Three with substantial local sourcing of parts as well, not to mention being made by American workers.

But Toyota, like other Japanese carmakers, has been through periods of consumer resentment for their products and at one time, were even forced to voluntarily limit exports from Japan in the 1980s. Starting with a limit of 1.68 million cars (total for all makes) in 1981, the voluntary export restraint brought on by US political pressure remained for some 9 years. While it relieved some pressure on the American carmakers, it also resulted in foreign carmakers setting up factories in America so they could build their cars there, behind the ‘barrier’ and unrestricted by quotas.

The Crown was the first Toyota to appear in the USA in 1958. The carmaker established its first operations in California, from where it would spread across the country and then begin setting up factories to make its cars there as well. 63 years later, it has become the No.1 carmaker in the country, displacing GM which held the title for 31 years.

Besides the COVID-19 pandemic which affected the whole auto industry, there were also serious supply chain issues and more disrupting, a shortage of semiconductors for the many electronic systems in today’s motor vehicles. Every manufacturer was affected but some, like Toyota, had managed to plan well, which the Japanese are good at. Lessons learnt from the tsunami/earthquake disaster in Japan in 2011 also helped Toyota to have good management of its supply chain and to ensure sufficient buffer stocks for any major disruption.

No plans to boast about title
Toyota doesn’t plan to use its achievement in promotions and instead highlights other sales achievements in 2021 (in the US market) like selling the most electrified vehicles for the 22nd consecutive year, being the No.1 retail brand (which excludes leasing and fleet sales) for the 10th consecutive year, No. 1 in passenger car market share for 10th consecutive year, and the bestselling models in the passenger car category (Camry), midsize SUV category (Highlander), SUV category (RAV4) and small van category (Sienna).

The Honda Accord was the first foreign model to become the No.1 passenger car sold in America in 1989. But the Camry has taken the position most years since 1994, and has been No.1 for the past 20 consecutive years. The success of the model was, in part, due to the refusal of the top guys at Toyota USA to take the model designed in Japan which was too conservative. With the support of the Toyodas, they managed to get the chief engineer to come up with a completely different design which, in some ways, mirrored the Lexus LS400 that had become a benchmark in the US premium luxury class from 1989.

While the Honda Accord was the first foreign model to be the bestselling car in America in 1989, it’s been the Toyota Camry (1994 model shown below) which has been No.1 for the past 20 consecutive years. 

The RAV4 is also another great success story for Toyota in America. It appeared at just the right time as Americans had a growing love for SUVs. Small and as easy to drive as a passenger car, it was ideal for the transition from a passenger car to SUV. It virtually created a new category overnight which would influence the rest of the industry to start following. Three years after the RAV4 appeared, Lexus also did a similar thing in the premium segment with the RX300.

The RAV4 created a new market segment almost overnight when it appeared in 1995. Since then, it has been a top-seller in its class.

Electrified models fuel sales
In recent times, Toyota’s growth has been fuelled by electrified vehicles, which it has been selling since the late 1980s when it introduced the Prius as the world’s first mass-produced vehicles with a hybrid powertrain. Since then, the range of hybrid models has expanded and it has even started selling a fuel-cell electric vehicle called the Mirai. Last year, electrified models accounted for about 25% of the total vehicles Toyota sold, up 73.2% in volume from a year before.

The Prius was the first mass-produced vehicle in the world with a hybrid powertrain when it was launched in 1989. Since then, Toyota has expanded its range of electrified models with hybrid powertrains and the picture below shows the models sold in the USA in 2013.

The total industry volume was just under 15 million vehicles in 2021 and 2022 is expected to see growth. Some forecasts put it at just over 15 million, but Toyota is more optimistic and thinks it could reach 16.5 million units, of which it is aiming to contribute 2.4 million. Whether GM will regain its crown remains to be seen although, like Ford long ago, the carmaker realizes that it is not much point chasing a No.1 title at the expense of profitability. Toyota somehow has managed to grab the No.1 position while still remaining profitable, though, but the Japanese are always conscious of a rival overtaking them so they never stop looking in the mirror.

Toyota: “No customer is left behind” in quest for carbon neutrality

Roger Smith, the former General Motors Chairman and CEO from 1981 to 1990, introduced huge amounts of technology into the company in the 1980s to gain what he believed would be an advantage in vehicle production. He fantasized about a ‘factory of the future’ which would work 24 hours non-stop without needing lights as there would be no human workers. Everything would be automated so no worries about unions and strikes.

But total automation and high-tech have not proven to be the way to become an efficient and productive carmaker. In later years, after Smith had retired and GM formed a joint-venture with Toyota to operate a factory in California making cars of both brands, it would be discovered that the Japanese ‘secret weapon’ was not some advanced manufacturing equipment but something more human like training and having the right culture.

Three decades later, the new General Motors has created another high-tech factory though ‘future’ is no longer mentioned. It is actually the old Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant which received a massive US$2.2 billion investment to be fully renovated for building a new generation of battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

General Motors Factory ZERO
The signboard on the 110-year old General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck factory being taken down in September 2020 as work was underway to renovate it into Factory ZERO to build only electric vehicles.

General Motors Factory ZERO

The various meanings of ZERO
Recently opened, the factory is known as Factory ZERO and while ‘zero’ is today associated with ‘zero emissions’ from vehicles, the name also reflects the significant role the facility plays in advancing GM’s vision of a world with zero crashes and zero congestion. It will make models such as the GMC HUMMER EV Pickup and HUMMER EV SUV, Chevrolet Silverado EV and Cruise Origin, an all-electric, self-driving, shared vehicle.

All Factory ZERO EVs will be built on GM’s Ultium Platform which is the core technology for the company’s EV product strategy. The Ultium Platform encompasses a common vehicle architecture and propulsion components like battery cells, modules, packs, drive units, EV motors and integrated power electronics, and is fundamental at plants where EVs are produced.

GM’s Ultium platform which will be used for the EV models of its different brands.

The GMC HUMMER EV SUV is one of the models to be built at Factory ZERO and will go on sale in 2023.

Through the Ultium Platform, GM can realize a strategic value chain shift across its network of vehicle assembly plants as the company is able to commonize and streamline machinery, tooling and assembly processes. This gives the company flexibility which huge corporations sometimes lose, and enables lower capital investments and greater efficiencies as additional assembly plant transformations occur.

GM’s competitive advantage
GM retooled Factory ZERO for BEV production for two-thirds the capital required to build a greenfield (brand new) plant, making the facility a model for future GM facility renovations. Some of the approaches taken during construction include reuse or recycling of almost every material that came out of the old facility during conversion. This included crushed concrete from the floor, which was repurposed for temporary roads around the facility. Storm water will be recycled and of course, solar power will contribute to the electrical needs.

General Motors Factory ZERO

As the company continues its transition into an all-electric future, GM will avoid up to US$15 billion in capital costs by 2030 through the renovation of existing manufacturing facilities versus ground-up construction. The figure grows to US$20 billion to US$30 billion at 100% transition of all manufacturing facilities to support EV production. That capital can be redeployed more strategically for additional customer-facing products, services and technologies.

“To meet our ambitious EV transition, GM’s North American EV vehicle assembly capacity will reach 20% by 2025, and then 50% by 2030,” said Gerald Johnson, GM’s Executive Vice-President of Global Manufacturing and Sustainability.

Shortened launch time
Using virtual tools and working in parallel with production engineering teams, GM cut the manufacturing launch time in half – from two years to less than one – also gaining a competitive advantage. By comparison, a brand new factory, with planning and construction, could take up to 4 years from site selection to vehicle production.

General Motors Factory ZERO

Along with the capital advantages, GM’s commitment to renovating its existing network of manufacturing facilities during the EV transition also saves time. An accelerated launch and production start allow the company to get new-generation EVs to customers sooner. The first vehicles from Factory ZERO will be delivered to customers by the end of this year.

GM estimates that 80% of the assembly process for an EV is the same as that for conventional vehicles. This is another driver of speed for GM. The company has refined and perfected its own standardized manufacturing processes over many decades, and will launch its expanding portfolio of BEVs faster, with superior quality and a lower cost.

People still matter in manufacturing
Roger Smith imagined a factory with robots and almost no human workers but Factory ZERO, when fully operational, will employ more than 2,200 people. “Our people are GM’s true competitive advantage — an advantage you simply can’t buy or quickly build,” said Johnson, echoing what Japanese carmakers have often said.

As a BEV factory, Factory ZERO plays a direct role in GM’s commitment to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035 and become carbon-neutral in its global products and operations by 2040. The company has already made a commitment to invest US$35 billion in electric and autonomous vehicles, with plans to introduce more than 30 BEV models by 2025.

General Motors Factory ZERO
Factory ZERO was officially opened by US President, Joseph Biden, recently.

GM looking forward to all-electric future with Ultium batteries

With electric vehicles (EVs), many of the heavy or bulky components that were needed by a traditional internal combustion engine drivetrain are no longer present. Not only is there weight-saving but less space is also wasted. For designers, there’s a new freedom, just as the switch to front-wheel drive gave interior designers more volume for cabin packaging.

Depending on how bold they are, the designers can now depart from traditional forms that have been used for decades and introduce new styles that may or may not catch on. Perhaps that’s what the designers at SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile had in mind when they came up with this new compact EV.

2021 Baojun Kiwi EV

Remember the Multipla?
Known as the Kiwi EV (previously designated E300), it joins the 11-year old Baojun brand’s line-up which is made up of low-cost models for the Chinese market. The new interstellar geometry design language of the brand is used for the avant-garde split body styling which may bring to mind the Fiat Multipla. The split body design incorporates a front bumper style which echoes the pattern of radar waves.

Like the Multipla, which was regarded as one of the ugliest cars produced, the Kiwi EV has the sort of appearance that will ‘make or break’. The designers probably made a case that its ‘distinct and personalized appearance’ will appeal to younger consumers who may be tried of the conventional look.

2021 Baojun Kiwi EV

Fiat Multipla

Priced from RM45,000
Customers can choose from 6 exterior colours and each one features its own decorative scheme, taking full advantage of the ‘suspended cab’ concept that gives the vehicle its unique look. Depending on the colour choice, the combinations span up to 3 body tones with contrasting accents on the roof, grille, mirrors, trim and wheels. There are two versions with prices ranging from 69,800 RMB (about RM45,000) to 78,800 RMB (about RM51,000).

Baojun highlights the tech features in the Kiwi EV, and besides its own telematics 2.0 system, it has an artificial intelligence voice interaction system, real-time road navigation, voice-controlled WeChat function and a mobile app for convenient management of functions.

2021 Baojun Kiwi EV

2021 Baojun Kiwi EV

Shorter than a Perodua Axia
The Kiwi EV is 2894 mm long, 1655 mm wide and 1595 mm high, with a 2020 mm wheelbase, which makes it shorter than a Perodua Axia. It comes with a McPherson independent suspension and double wishbone independent suspension design, for a comfortable rid

The powertrain employs synchronous fixed ratio gearbox and the electric motor is mounted behind for rear-wheel-drive. It can generate up to 40 kW of maximum power and 150 Nm of maximum torque which comes on instantaneously. The top speed is claimed to be 100 km/h with a range of just over 300 kms. The battery pack, which can have a capacity of up to 31.9 kWh, supports DC fast charging and an hour is said to be the time needed for charging to full capacity.

2021 Baojun Kiwi EV

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