General Motors and Honda are joining forces to develop two new electric vehicles, the companies announced on Thursday. They’ll have Honda nameplates but will be built using GM’s newly announced flexible EV platform with its Ultium-branded improved battery packs.
Honda will design the exteriors and interiors of the new EVs, while the platform will be engineered to support Honda’s specifications, the companies say. They will be manufactured at GM’s North American plants, with sales expected to begin in the 2024 model year.
It’s a surprising piece of news, given the otherwise dire conditions for the auto industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Honda and GM, along with practically the entire auto industry, have temporarily shuttered their factories in the US and abroad in accordance with public health guidelines. Sales are down sharply as most customers are staying at home, and experts say the real pain is still to come, with automakers girding themselves for an extended economic slump.
COVID-19 cases were just starting to pop up in the US in early March when GM hosted an “EV Day” at its design headquarters in Warren, Michigan, to lay out its broader electric vehicle strategy. The company also showcased roughly a dozen products, including the Cadillac “Lyriq” EV crossover and two electric versions of GMC’s Hummer. (The release dates for all three, including the revamped Chevy Bolt, have been delayed due to the pandemic.)
Honda’s electric lineup is limited. The automaker recently discontinued its Clarity EV, though it will continue to sell hydrogen and plug-in hybrid versions of the vehicle. Its Honda E is expected to go on sale this summer in Europe.
GM and Honda have a preexisting relationship when it comes to EVs. The Japanese automaker is an investor in GM’s majority-owned autonomous vehicle subsidiary Cruise ($2 billion over 12 years). As part of the deal, Cruise and Honda said they would jointly develop a purpose-built electric autonomous vehicle. A pre-production version of that vehicle, the Cruise Origin, was first unveiled late last year. Weeks later, GM said it would spend $2.2 billion to retrofit its Detroit-Hamtramck plant for the production of autonomous and electric vehicles. The new Honda EVs are likely to be built in that refurbished plant.
But GM and Honda aren’t the only automakers getting cozy with each other. Ford and VW recently announced a major tie-up to building EVs and AVs. In fact, car companies big and small are racing to build on Tesla’s success by mass-producing battery-powered SUVs, pickup trucks, and sedans. In tandem, many of the same companies are also testing self-driving cars, either as taxis to ferry passengers around cities or as delivery robots carrying groceries and other goods.
But EVs still represent a small fraction of the total vehicles sold globally, and many of the rosy predictions about mass driverless cars hitting the road have failed to come to pass.