GM Expects to Sell 1 Million Electric Cars a Year by 2026

The company's electric car plans are getting more ambitious.

General Motors

The Chevy Bolt is about to have a lot of company. General Motors plans to significantly increase production of electric cars while ensuring they are profitable, CEO Mary Barra told investors Wednesday. Economies of scale and improved batteries will make that possible, Barra said, adding that by 2026, GM expects to be building a million electric cars per year. 

To achieve that volume, the company is developing a new modular electric car platform that can underpin a variety of different models for different markets, including both North America and China. China will likely account for the majority of sales, as GM needs to meet new quotas that take effect in 2019.

Last month, GM announced plans for 20 new electric cars by 2023. It's likely that many of them will be based on the new platform, which will debut in 2021 and will serve as the basis for at least nine variants ranging from a compact crossover to a seven-passenger luxury utility vehicle, according to Reuters. Spreading out development costs over several models, particularly high-volume crossovers, will create a clearer path to profitability.

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But first, GM will introduce three new electric models by 2020, including two crossovers. These models will be based on the Bolt EV, allowing GM to get more out of that platform. The Bolt EV is a solid electric car, but its overall impact will be limited if GM can't apply the lessons it learned from it to a wider array of models quickly and grow sales.

In addition to platform sharing, GM hopes to bring the cost of batteries down from $145 per kilowatt-hour to less than $100/kWh by 2021. That would take prices below what is generally considered the threshold for cost parity with gasoline cars. GM is reportedly planning to boost battery production volume, as well as lower the cost of the batteries themselves. The automaker is working on batteries that are 30 percent cheaper than the ones used in the Bolt EV, but that could also allow for more than 300 miles of range, according to Reuters.

GM appears to have much more ambitious plans than its Detroit rivals. Ford is planning a 300-mile electric SUV, but other than that it is primarily focusing on hybrids. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, meanwhile, has not publicly discussed a long-term electrification strategy. But GM faces plenty of competition from European automakers, as well as Tesla, which is ramping up electric car production but still loses money.