DETROIT—General Motors Co.'s existing footprint of assembly plants for internal combustion vehicles will be an advantage to GM's electric vehicle future, according to Dane Parker, chief sustainability officer.
GM has 11 assembly plants in the U.S. alone. Factory Zero, previously called Detroit-Hamtramck, is being retooled for all-EV production. Spring Hill Assembly in Tennessee is also being revamped to build both EVs and gasoline-powered vehicles.
"The capacity we have today to assemble vehicles will translate to assemble electric vehicles in a fairly straightforward way and fairly quickly," Parker said at the Goldman Sachs Global Automotive Conference. "From a total capital perspective, adding capacity for electric vehicles and adding capacity for combustion engines isn't materially different for us."
On the propulsion side, he added, GM will make additional investments to develop batteries and electric motors.
"We're able to, in many cases, retrofit existing propulsion plants to do that. In some cases, we'll be building new ones," he said.
Last year, GM and LG Chem formed a joint venture, Ultium Cells, to mass-produce batteries in Lordstown, Ohio.
GM has pledged to have 30 EVs in the market globally by 2025. Through 2025, the auto maker plans to spend $27 billion on electric and autonomous vehicle development.
GM is taking a five-year approach to electrification, rather than making projections for the next decades, Parker said.
"What we really can control is the next five years," he said. "Every year we're going to look at the next five years and say, 'Do we need to go faster? Is it more aggressive than we thought? Is there a barrier we didn't see? Are we not making progress in chargers we need to make?' "
GM's electrification plans may soon expand beyond light vehicles. Battery and hydrogen fuel cell development will give GM opportunities to grow its business through other industries, Parker said.
The auto maker expects to use the technology for backup storage, portable and mobile energy, and uses in the military, for example. Some mobile equipment, such as forklifts, are already fuel-cell powered, he said. Parker also expects that fuel cells will someday be used to charge EVs while they're en route.
Today, if a vehicle battery dies, the vehicle must be towed. But eventually, a fuel cell-powered mobile charging unit could recharge EVs while they're on the road, he said.
GM shares gained 0.5 percent to $44.32 in midday trading.