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Why GM Is Taking the Slow Lane in the Great EV Race

CEO Mary Barra says her slew of electric vehicle models due next year—all with the new Ultium battery pack—will prove the wisdom of the automaker’s deliberate pace.

Barra

Barra

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
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Five years ago, General Motors Co. boss Mary Barra was the bold one. She announced a plan to spend $20 billion developing a fleet of electric vehicles—20 models by 2023, she promised—underpinned by a new battery pack the company now calls Ultium. Overnight, investors started to think of GM less as a 20th century relic and more like a heavyweight challenger to Tesla Inc. In the following years, GM twice increased the promised investment, to $35 billion, and by early 2021, its share price had doubled.

In the meantime, GM fell behind key rivals—namely Ford Motor Co., which introduced the Mustang Mach-E in 2019 and, earlier this year, an electric version of its F-150 pickup, the bestselling vehicle in the US. Korea’s Hyundai Motor Corp. and Kia Corp. have come on strong with a pair of EVs priced just over $40,000. And Volkswagen’s release of an ambitious slate of models with its own dedicated EV platform has also started with two models for global markets. Sure, Chevrolet introduced the electric Bolt compact in 2016 and an electric version of its hulking Hummer late last year, but to date Ultium has been slow to show results.