General Motors is challenging the spate of premium automakers entering the electric vehicle market with a battery-powered luxury crossover of its own.
The automaker previewed the first fully electric vehicle from its Cadillac brand Sunday night at a Detroit Auto Show event. The crossover, whose name and electric range have not been announced, will be the first EV built on the company’s new, flexible platform.
Despite GM’s recent investment in developing and marketing the all-electric Bolt subcompact under its mass market Chevrolet brand, the Detroit automaker said that it is now designating its own luxury marque to lead the company’s electrified lineup.
Cadillac will be the first to use the automaker’s new electric vehicle platform to produce front-, rear- and all-wheel drive models with a range of battery output. The company said the flexible platform will allow it to respond quickly to consumer demand and shorten development time.
GM said that the new platform will add a variety of body styles to Cadillac’s lineup. Cadillac will introduce roughly one new gas-powered or electrified model every six months through 2021, including the XT6 three-row crossover revealed at the auto show preview, a new Escalade full-size SUV and a performance sedan.
The move is part of a strategy to compete against Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, which plan to launch their own first-ever luxury electric crossovers over the next two years, as well as electric SUVs from Tesla and Jaguar Land Rover.
Cadillac previously launched two plug-in hybrids—the ELR compact coupe and CT6 sedan—without success, but analysts say it needs a fully battery-powered vehicle to remain viable in the electrified landscape.
“For Cadillac to take the EV lead within the company is both interesting and complicated,” because Chevrolet will sell between three and five EVs globally by the time the new Cadillac EV platform launches, Reilly Brennan, a general partner at Trucks Venture Capital and a lecturer at Stanford University’s School of Engineering, said in a note. “It would appear GM’s powertrain group ‘got religion,’ as the company is shifting 75% of its powertrain engineers from internal-combustion engines to EV development.”
According to Brennan, ‘There is still lots of haggling over how this will come to market, because internally they want a modular EV architecture that can handle FWD, AWD, RWD and commercial and luxury. It’s hard to put all of that in one hardware suite.’
In November, GM announced it would discontinue its most popular electrified vehicle, the Volt plug-in hybrid, along with five other gas-engine models, as part of a larger strategy to save the company $6 billion by the end of 2020.
Terminating the Volt and moving Cadillac to the forefront of GM’s electrification strategy marks a shift toward regarding EVs as a premium item, said Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at Edmunds.
“Tesla has created the blueprint that has won over the EV segment, and the EV race will happen among luxury makes,” Acevedo said. “It looks like the next big steps in the EV segment are going to come from the luxury set.”