GM takes a spin on Tesla and changes its approach with a new giant truck

GMC Hummer EV Edition 1

Michael Wayland/CNBC

Phoenix – The new GMC Hummer electric pickup is different for General Motors and not just because it’s not as fuel-intensive as its predecessors. It represents a major shift for the historically conservative Detroit automaker in both form and function, according to those who worked on it.

The “highly profitable” vehicle is the flagship of General Motors’ new Ultium EV technologies and is the Detroit automaker’s new benchmark in terms of development time. There are also other notable features inside the car that insiders say are testaments to GM’s shift as a company to better compete against Tesla and the new EV companies.

These features include precise digging into Tesla’s long-awaited Cybertruck, a prominent button that currently does nothing—and a “Watts to Freedom,” or WTF, mode, which fires the massive car from 0 to 60 mph in about three seconds. This is similar to the Chevy Corvette and slightly slower than some Tesla performance models that can hit the speed in less than three seconds.

“Hopefully there will be a lot of surprise with this car because it’s all intentional,” Aaron Pfau, Hummer’s lead development engineer, said during a media event. “It kind of changes your concept of not just what an electric vehicle can do but what General Motors as a whole can do.”

Through the company’s rigorous attorneys and broader bureaucracy, Pfau and other members of the Hummer EV team have been able to enable quick decision-making and unique vehicle features that GM hasn’t done before. They did it in 26 months which is a record. That’s about half the time it takes a typical car program.

The overall mission, referred to internally as “moon shots” in reference to NASA’s first Apollo 11 lunar landing, was to quickly create a “fun” vehicle that would draw attention to the company and its new electric vehicles, which are expected to expand to 30 global models by 2025.

“The whole point of this car was to get people excited and thinking about electric vehicles that wouldn’t necessarily be excited and thinking about electric vehicles,” Pfau said. “We pull everything, all the bells and whistles, into this one car. It’s a halo-like vehicle, right? It’s not that big of a deal.”

What is this nonsense

The Hummer team was largely given the reins of vehicle innovation around the idea of ​​building a high-performance truck for the outdoors and off-road. In essence, updating the gas-guzzling Hummer brand to create a bold electric vehicle that showcases the best of what the company has to offer.

We empowered the design team and the chief engineer, and we said, ‘Come on, let’s go,’ said Duncan Aldred, global president of GMC, during an interview.

To use “WTF,” an acronym usually associated with a cliched term of disbelief, senior members of the Hummer team, backed by GM executives to do various things, got approval after a battle with auto industry lawyers.

“It’s an engaging experience, and we want to break the norms,” ​​Pfau said. “We don’t want you to keep thinking that we’re an old, stifling, legacy company. We were on this program really a startup, inside General Motors, and that paved the way for us.”

Others such as exterior designer Brian Malchowski and vehicle dynamics performance engineer Drew Mitchell shared similar sentiments about the program. Aldred gave credit to Barra and GM chief Mark Royce for giving the team such freedom to operate, within reason.

“That doesn’t mean we want to do anything irresponsible by any means,” Aldred said. “But obviously we’re in an environment where we have to deliver the things that customers want and that’s going to excite them. Tesla, to be fair to them, has done a great job on all of those things.”

Some of Tesla’s features have been controversial. Notably, drivers are allowed to play video games while driving, which has been scrapped, and concerns about driver assistance systems being offered to consumers during testing or not properly monitoring driver awareness.

Aldred said GM has a history of safely deploying such features, citing third-party praise for its Super Cruise highway driver assistance system, which is available in the Hummer.

The Hummer also has a four-wheel steering system that allows it to perform extremely tight turns and offers a “crab mode” that allows the vehicle to move in a diagonal direction. The current producing model delivers 1,000 horsepower, 1,200 lb-ft of engine torque, and 11,500 lb-ft of wheel torque.

However, much like GM’s original Hummers of the 1990s and 2000s, this capability comes at a cost. While it’s not a gas guzzler, it does go through a lot of power and weighs more than 9,000 pounds. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that weight is about 4,000 pounds more than the heaviest Chevrolet Silverado 1500 pickup and more than twice the average new car.

Car and Driver reports that the Hummer EV truck has a rating of 47 mpg, which is an electric vehicle’s mileage-per-gallon equivalent range. That’s about 33% less than its competitors, including the smaller Rivian R1T truck and Ford Motor’s upcoming F-150 Lightning. GM declined to confirm MPGe.

The Hummer Edition 1, currently in production at a plant in Detroit, has a range of 329 miles, topping the Rivian and Ford electric pickup trucks. Both automakers as well as Tesla have said long-term options for their pickup trucks will be available at later dates.

easter eggs

Other hidden or surprising features in the car, also known as “Easter eggs,” range from lunar-inspired design elements to customizable graphics for the auxiliary digital buttons. Optional images include dynamite and skulls, as well as a Hummer EV running atop a Tesla Cybertruck.

“We had a lot of fun with this thing that we normally can’t do with your regular car,” Malczewski said.

Hummer EV features customizable graphics for auxiliary digital buttons. Optional images range from dynamite and skulls to one of the vehicles powered by a Tesla Cybertruck.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

There is also a button in a prominent place on the center knob that currently does nothing. When pressed, it says, “Your position. Your task.” GM wants owners to submit their own ideas for a button feature that will then be added via a remote OTA, or over-the-air update.

The button, a small “H” surrounded by three triangular markings, can be used for additional off-road or performance modes or other features For vehicles, Pfau said.

“We’re asking for everyone’s opinions now to say, ‘Hey, what are some things you want?’ ‘ He said. ‘We’ve looked at all kinds of different features that we can do with the controls.’

These hidden features and remote updates are somewhat new to traditional automakers like General Motors but have been a staple for Tesla, the leader in electric cars. Barra said GM will lead Tesla in sales of electric vehicles in the United States by 2025.

There is a button prominently on the center knob that says when pressed, “Your position. Your task.” GM wants owners to submit their own ideas for the button feature, which will then be added via a remote update.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

It seems profitable

Since the Hummer EV pickup was revealed in October 2020, GM has received more than 65,000 reservations for the truck as well as for an upcoming version of the SUV.

According to Aldred, eighty percent of bookers have requested the most expensive models of the car.

“We had a target, we had a feasibility study, we’re beating that,” he said, refusing to compare profitability with traditional internal combustion models. “We made pretty big profits on these vehicles even with, say, a mix of 40 or 50 percent of the top deals.”

GM promised investors that next-generation cars, starting with the Hummer, would be profitable. The Limited Edition “Edition 1” by Hummer starts at $110,295. Other lower-priced releases—ranging from $80,000 to $100,000 prices—will follow.

Production is now set to begin at the former assembly plant in Detroit-Hamtramck, less than two years after General Motors announced a massive $2.2 billion investment to renovate the entire facility to build a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs.

Photo by Jeffrey Suger for General Motors

Aldred said that while the Hummer EV pickup is for sale, new orders are unlikely to be fulfilled until 2024 due to the number of existing reservations. The SUV, which General Motors revealed last year after the pickup truck, is not expected to arrive until 2023.

“What we are looking at now is how can we build the maximum amount and how can we deliver and fulfill those bookings as quickly as possible?” Aldred said. “We’re doing all the studies on that, and we’re confident we can go a lot faster than we originally thought, but that still means booking now probably means 24th delivery.”