Electric cars are back in the forefront and GM is leading the revolution! China will soon surpass the U.S. as the largest auto market. Let’s hear Executive Director of Electrification Strategy for GM China, Mr. Ray Bierzynski, discussing about GM’s game plan.
This Harvard MBA knows China well. He had earlier held the post of vice president, Engineering, for GM Asia Pacific and executive director, China Engineering, from 2007 to 2009. In 2004, Mr. Bierzynski was named president of the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC).
Mr. Bierzynski received the 2006 Shanghai Municipal Magnolia Award, which is given in recognition of outstanding social, economic and cultural contributions to the municipality by foreign experts, scholars and entrepreneurs, for his efforts to strengthen PATAC and promote technical exchanges between China and other countries. (Source: GM Media)
Jackson: First congratulations on being appointed the first-ever Executive Director of Electrification Strategy！ Could you give us a brief background of your new position? What’s the U.S. counterpart?
Ray: It’s a very interesting role. First of all, we actually have a very small group. We call it a virtual team because everybody is in their respective functions. The idea here is not to create additional bureaucracy or layers, but rather to provide some synergy amongst all of our various initiatives, and a cohesive strategy that ties together all of various stake holders.
So I work with public policy in Beijing, with communications team, with benchmarking team. We have engineering, of course, to understand charging codes and standards. I’m doing competitive assessment. It is to pull all those various stakeholders together, be they government, be they joint ventures, be they the media, for a cohesive plan.
You mentioned the counterpart in the US. It’s essentially a little bit different. Due to the greater importance in China of electrification, this role is a little bit unique. I combine elements like infrastructural work, like VOE for the volts, and some similar things like that. So it’s kind of a mixture.
Jackson: That’s indeed interesting. Talking about vehicle electrification, the first thing most people will think is Volts. News said that the first batch of Volts was shipped to China last Dec. What plan do you have for these Volts?
Ray: Our plan is that we have a demonstration fleet in Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai. We have delivered the first vehicle to Jiading, the EV Zone. Basically that is the only one at the EV Zone that general public can evaluate. It’s been out there since the first week in January. People drive around the course there and we’ll be recording the feedback.
Additionally we are tying the demonstration with the charging station. We’ve also installed three charging stations collaboratively in Jiading. For example, one from Siemens, one from SPX, and one from GE. Because of course charging and infrastructure go hand in hand. And that’s one of the unique things about this role is that it’s cross-functional. As you go to electrification you are doing something that you never did before from an industry stand of point. And charging and infrastructure is certainly one of those.
We’ve got a couple of other cars. We are just trying to get more experience here in Shanghai. And then in Beijing we’ll be leveraging CATARC (China Automotive Technology and Research Center) to help us place these cars in the hands of some of the policy folks and professors and other stakeholders like that.
Jackson: Volt costs 498,000 RMB. Who are the targeting customers in China?
Ray: You might be aware that we are selling it in 13 dealerships in 8 different cities. So it’s very limited–not unusually when you bring out a kind of leading edge vehicle. We are targeting those, I call it, up-scale customers from that price plan, but also people who are very tech-savvy that are sort of state-of-the-art in thinking that they want the latest technology product. The Volt is an EV but it’s more than that because some of the other technologies that go with it, in terms of the touch screen, the information display and all that. The targeting areas are the clusters around Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.
Jackson: You don’t want a small market volume, do you? I guess eventually, say after a couple of decades, you want everyone to buy GM EV. GM said that there was no business model for EV1. But now GM is very committed to electrification. Why does Volt have a business case now? Especially why do you think it will succeed in China?
Ray: You’ve got to look at, what we call, electrification continuum. There is not one solution for the energy but multiple. If you look at the continuum, we start out with, what we might call it, a milder hybrid, or eAssist. We launched the LaCrosse in China which is sort of a belt alternator starter system that correspond the cars to stop lights but also provide a little bit of boost. That is a very cost effective solution right now which gives you almost 20% fuel energy saving. And then as you walk across you go to the starter hybrid like the Cadillac Escalade which operates at fuel EV at higher speed. Then you get to plug-in. We have a chart of it those kind of left to right as you read it. But it starts with eAssist, or milder hybrid, and then strong hybrid, then you progress for example to PHEV, a plug-in hybrid that uses Phev-blending, then you progress to extended range, and then a full EV, and then fuel cell, which still see out there. So spread across the continuum, the Volt of course is one offering. There’s a long way to go as you mentioned, you know a couple of decades. China at 2020 is a key year because that’s when the next fuel economy regulations will be released. But as you look across, Volt enables you to test the market, to get the electric vehicle out there when the infrastructure is not there. There’re a lot of things you can learn from Volt. So Volt is not intended to be a high volume product. It’s rather a initial learning vehicle.
Jackson: In the GM’s five year plan, it mentioned that GM will develop and build BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) with PATAC; and will co-develop the next generation EV architecture with SAIC. Could you talk a little about the rationale behind these two projects?
Ray: As I mentioned, going back to the continuum, the Volt obviously is an imported vehicle with various duties. But you really want also to do a full electric vehicle in China. And that’s the intent of partnering with SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation). And intent of doing something in PATAC is to develop lower cost electric vehicles in China, for China. And one is intended to have larger volume. In the case of the project we announced in September was fundamentally a new architecture drawing at Volt partners. So that would be the intent. We are not announcing many more details of the BEV project, other than the fact that it allows us to take some cost out.
Jackson: I’m a little curious that how do people charge their EV in cities where the majority of the citizens are apartment dwellers.
Ray: So go back to your first question of my role. I can dedicate my time to continue working on those sorts of issues. The PATAC guys have to execute vehicles, the other part of the engineering has to do that. What I’m doing in this role is exploring where our people likely to charge; what the infrastructure want to be; and work with some of the ministries, State Grid for example, to understand may people charge at home, will they charge at work or public charging, what is AC versus DC charging, etc.. So this is my role which allows me to go out and study this. And because the Volt has extended range, we can get out of the market place and don’t have to worry as much about where the infrastructure is. So as people buy Volt, we’ll be able to understand are they plug in their apartment complex? Being a more up-scale vehicle, the folks probably may tend to have a parking garage. But again, one expected learning is to understand where they are charging.
Jackson: I’ve read that GM bought a German company doing parking lot solar charging.
Ray: Yes. As a matter of fact, we bought interest in a company called Sunlogics that makes charging stations. We are installing them in a lot of GM facilities. It clearly is here on our campus. And we’ve got it up and running. It can charge up to six volts with the peak sun load. So we are gaining experience with that type of green charging. And that’s going on fairly well.
Jackson: Could you discuss a little about the EN-V (Electric Networked-Vehicle) project with Tianjin Eco-City? What’s GM’s plan for this concept car?
Ray: We announced in April in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, the developer, for the eco-city. Basically we are studying the technical feasibility of clean NV in the eco-city. Our plan is that the next generation NV would be utilized in the city. We are working on to understand can it work, where we will drive, how many will be need, those sort of things. That’s what we are working with Tianjin. I’m actually very involved with this project from the overall stand of point. The plan is to go to the next generation. It’s a very cool concept. But we need to make some progress in, for example, running actual road services, adding a little bid storage, and adding some HVAC. Those are the type of things you’ll see in the next generation NV.
Jackson: What are the customers’, government’s, partners’ and competitor’s attitude and actions towards the vehicle electrification?
Ray: In China, the government has a very very strong push. It gets a little bit complex because there are a lot of players involved. You have multiple ministries touch electrification. You’ve got MIIT (Ministry of Industry and Information Technology), MOST (Ministry of Science and Technology), the State Consul, just to name a few at the ministry side. And you’ve also got a lot of universities involved. And then you have on the State Grid who is doing some work on battery swapping which would be a preferred method of theirs. So you’ve got a lot of players.
Everyone is pushing very hard to make electrification happen. One of the challenges is of course the cost of battery in particular. So everybody is collectively working on that. But I’m looking at different potential alternatives. For business model stand of point there are lots of people doing some interesting things. There’s a company called PGZEV that’s located in Jiading that actually will sell you any model of EV. So that’s a new way of looking at things.
But in terms of competitors, one of the things we would like to say on our attempt to lead the industry. For electrification you’ve got to bring the whole industry along. We call it infrastructure. And so we are engaging a lot of folks. And that’s why we see ourselves playing a lead role. Working with GE, and working with the State Grid. Understand the infrastructure and charging.
And we are very active on finding good suppliers.
Jackson: What kind of entrepreneurship opportunity do you see from this electrification movement?
Ray: Absolutely. I think, as I’ve mentioned, you’ve got business model from Jiading of selling all sorts of EV. That’s an interesting idea. Certainly people are talking about battery rental. That might bring new business opportunities. It might get the cost down. You’ve got people looking at battery swapping. So there’re a whole lot of new things we are going to learn very quickly over the next a few years.
Jackson: That’s very exciting. You used to be President of PATAC, VP of GMAP Engineering, and now Executive Director of Electrification Strategy. Is there any difference in working in a joint venture than in a foreign company in China?
Ray: There were different roles. In PATAC, we are executing programs. So you are very much focused on release on time, getting designs out, hardware built. You work collaboratively with our JV partners. It’s very operational when you have a role like that.
Then in terms of Asia Pacific Engineering, that’s more coordination and try to look across centers to share best practices, coordinate approvals, look at common product application. So it’s a little bit of different role. It’s not day-to-day operational at PATAC. Certainly in AP there is no partner per se. You then look at kind of things within the company.
And then I look at this role, I very very much focused at China. I don’t have a functional reporting responsibility. I just work for Kevin Wale (President at GM China). So that offers the opportunity to look across a bunch of areas.
Jackson: What role do you see China’s R&D department, or the Tech Center, takes in GM’s global business?
Ray: Well, the battery lab in R&D, in particular from my perspective on electrification, will ultimately be fabricating cells. They learn as much as possible about cell technology, cell chemistry performance and application. And then the engineering side is going to be qualifying Chinese suppliers doing validation testing. Both of those are extension of important elements of our global both R&D and Engineering structures. So they’ll take their roles, and in many cases leading it in terms of suppliers qualification, and also leading a knowledge of gathering process with the cell manufacturers .