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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

General Motors is laying down huge, simultaneous bets on electric cars and self-driving technology, a strategic gamble based on its belief that future automated vehicles will run only on electricity.

Why it matters: It's a risky bet that few can stomach, especially if EVs and AVs are slow to be accepted by consumers. Other carmakers, like Ford, see near-term limitations to battery-electric AVs and favor a more measured approach.

Between the lines: GM believes both technologies are approaching a tipping point and hopes they will propel it to the forefront of a massive industry shift toward shared, self-driving electric cars.

  • "The only way to lead in either one is to go heavy and hard in both of them," said Doug Parks, GM VP for autonomous and electric vehicle programs.

The big picture: Automakers are split on the path to electrification, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Toyota and Ford are rolling out more hybrid gas-electric models as part of a gradual shift toward fully electric cars. They are both heavily invested in hybrid tech.
  • GM and Volkswagen see no need for hybrids as a technology bridge and are concentrating instead on all-electric models. They also need to defend their strong positions in China, where they face government mandates to sell more zero-emissions vehicles.

What they're saying: The companies' views on self-driving technology are also influencing their strategies toward electrification.

GM says all-electric autonomous cars have an advantage over hybrid- and gasoline-powered ones.

  • They're ideal for dense cities that need solutions for congestion and pollution.
  • AVs require a lot of electrical power to run their advanced sensing and computer hardware.
  • An all-electric AV is more responsive so it can make decisions and complete maneuvers — like navigating around a double-parked car — more quickly.

Ford sees practical issues that favor hybrid powertrains for AVs for the time being.

  • Building the necessary charging infrastructure will add to the already capital-intensive challenge of developing AV technology and operations.
  • Until battery technology improves, an AV's power-hungry computers (along with air conditioning and entertainment systems) will deplete more than half the range of a battery-electric vehicle.
  • If cars are sitting on chargers, they aren't making money. 
  • Fast-charging is needed to run an AV fleet, but Ford says repeated use will degrade the battery's lifespan. (GM says this isn't a concern.)

The bottom line: "We all want to transition to BEVs eventually, but we also need to find the right balance that will help develop a profitable, viable business model," said Sherif Marakby, president and CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC.

Go deeper

19 mins ago - World

Report: "Clear evidence" China is committing genocide against Uyghurs

The scene in 2019 of a site believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Kashgar in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese authorities have breached "each and every act prohibited" under the UN Genocide Convention over the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang province, an independent report published Tuesday alleges.

Why it matters: D.C. think-tank the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, which released the report, said in a statement the conclusions by dozens of experts in war crimes, human rights and international law are "clear and convincing": The ruling Chinese Communist Party bears responsibility.

Updated 2 hours ago - Technology

Twitter sues Texas AG Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at February's Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Twitter on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), saying that his office launched an investigation into the social media giant because it banned former President Trump from its platform.

Driving the news: Twitter is seeking to halt an investigation launched by Paxton into moderation practices by Big Tech firms including Twitter for what he called "the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President," days after they banned him following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate retirements could attract GOP troublemakers

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Roy Blunt's retirement highlights the twin challenge facing Senate Republicans: finding good replacement candidates and avoiding a pathway for potential troublemakers to join their ranks.

Why it matters: While the midterm elections are supposed to be a boon to the party out of power, the recent run of retirements — which may not be over — is upending that assumption for the GOP in 2022.