GM’s Mary Barra Sees U.S. Move to Electric Vehicles Taking Several Decades

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GM CEO Mary Barra says it will take decades for EVs to become the majority mode of transportation in the U.S. The company is basing its current EV development on a joint battery program with Honda. // Photo courtesy of General Motors Co.

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra says it will take decades for electric vehicles to become the nation’s dominant form of transportation, but she foresees autonomous cars on the road within five years, according to a Monday report from Bloomberg News.

Barra says American drivers will go electric eventually, but it will take a long time for most of the 250 million vehicles on U.S. roads to be battery powered.

“We believe the transition will happen over time,” Barra said on “Leadership Live with David Rubenstein” on Bloomberg Television. When questioned if all vehicles will be electric in 20 years, she said that may be too soon. “It will happen in a little bit longer period, but it will happen.”

In the meantime, GM is budgeting billions of dollars for new models and deciding which of them will run on battery power. Following Tesla Inc., GM is one of the most aggressive carmakers when it comes to electrifying its lineup, pledging a future all-electric lineup.

It currently sells just one EV in the U.S. but is developing more than 20 plug-in models, including a Cadillac crossover and a Hummer pickup that will both debut by the fall of next year.

In addition to funding its EV program, GM also is spending about $1 billion a year to fund Cruise, the self-driving car unit the automaker majority owns. A return on that investment will bear fruit before long, Barra predicts.

“I definitely think it will happen within the next five years,” she says of driverless cars hitting the streets. “Our Cruise team is continuing to develop technology so it’s safer than a human driver. I think you’ll see it clearly within five years.”

Written by Tim Keenan for dBusiness magazine.