GM’s electric truck launch is late — and boring

A case study in how not to launch a flagship EV.

(GM)
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How do you stand out when you’re belatedly doing what everybody else is doing?

That’s what I asked myself as GM attempted to make a splash with new electric-vehicle rollouts at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. 

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The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S. Absent a sudden cultural shift away from personal car use, electrifying vehicles is the obvious pathway to lowering those emissions. So any conversion of a bestselling pickup truck like the Chevy Silverado should be good news for the climate.

GM could use some good news for itself. Last year, it had to recall its bestselling electric car, the Chevy Bolt, due to risk of its batteries catching fire. 

But it’s hard to identify any novelty in the company’s latest offerings. The best language GM could muster to describe the first electric Silverado is: It offers a revolutionary mix of performance, capability, technology, and style.” 

Its base price clocks in around $40,000, just like Ford’s electric F-150, which was unveiled last May. GM does claim better range than Ford — a maximum of 400 miles versus 300 miles. But revolutionary”?

The electric Silverado was developed from the ground up,” GM says. But from the marketing images, it’s hard to distinguish what’s new. Here’s a 2022 gas-powered Silverado:

(GM)

And here’s the forthcoming electric version:

(GM)

The design thesis seems to be that all you really need is an LED light bar across the front to signify the all-electric future. Otherwise, prospective buyers can squint and try to find the missing tailpipe.

GM also failed to talk up the unique advantages of its EV design, in contrast to rival Ford.

In its surprisingly exciting electric F-150 launch last year, Ford showed off how you can power your home through a blackout using your truck battery. The company also highlighted how workers at a construction site can run their power tools from the pickup, rather than endure the drone of a diesel generator all day. Ford demonstrated the capabilities you gain by switching to electric — the EV features that outcompete an internal-combustion engine.

It turns out, the Silverado also lets you plug tools into 10 onboard outlets that support 10.2 kilowatts of power. For those who don’t work in construction, that power can help you at your campsite, job site and even your home.” But I had to wade through a few minutes of a promotional video in the Chevy pressroom to find that nugget. It doesn’t appear on the dedicated Silverado website.

The EV landscape is shifting fast

GM is also lagging behind in purely quantitative terms. Tesla is mopping up U.S. EV sales today. Ford’s electric pickup hits the streets this spring. GM’s consumer truck arrives — wait for it — in fall 2023. There’s also a work truck edition that will be available in spring 2023, but only for fleet purchases.

There’s definitely no first-mover advantage for GM at this point. It was early with the Bolt, but lost the benefit when announcing that the cars all needed to have their most critical component replaced. The mass recall puts the company on the defensive, as savvy EV buyers will surely wonder how things went so wrong with 141,000 vehicles.

That means GM will need to do something to stand out when its Silverado gets to market. The message now being touted is that it’s the same truck, just electric. But I didn’t hear any compelling argument for why a Silverado fan should make the jump.

Departing from the status quo requires effort. If GM offers the same vehicle, just with a battery inside, that’s not going to convince buyers who weren’t already looking for an electric car. Nor does it do anything to differentiate the company or its products when every major automaker is adding electric models. 

The clean energy transition moves so quickly that a story that seems revolutionary one year becomes boring and redundant the next. Solar farms and battery plants that would have been groundbreaking quite recently might not even merit a headline these days. 

And the timeline is only speeding up. Old-school automakers betting their futures on electric went from a radical departure to conventional wisdom in a stunningly short period of time. 

That’s a hopeful indicator for greenhouse gas reductions. It also means no company is special for making the shift. Let the battery games begin. 

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.