GM Sets Ambitious Revenue Target, Challenges Tesla With $30,000 Electric SUV

The Detroit auto maker also took direct aim at

Tesla Inc.,

TSLA 0.32%

saying it plans to take the lead in electric-vehicle sales in the U.S., without pegging a timetable. GM executives outlined their longer-term goals ahead of a daylong event for investors and analysts at GM’s research center in suburban Detroit.

GM said it additionally plans to boost operating margins beyond the 7.9% posted last year by rolling out new models and services that can help it further grow its bottom line. In 2020, GM had global revenue of $122.5 billion.

Declaring such long-range financial goals is an unusual step for the car company and underscores GM’s bid to convince investors to value it more like a tech-oriented firm than a manufacturer.

GM executives have been trying to make the case that it is evolving into a technology company and can boost revenue and profit by not only churning out cars but also offering services that generate recurring revenue streams.

Wall Street has shown enthusiasm for GM’s electrification plans over the past 18 months, often sending shares sharply higher on electric-vehicle news. GM shares snapped back from an all-time low amid pandemic uncertainty in March 2020 to rise 14% last year. They were up 30% this year through Tuesday’s close.

Still, its valuation of around $79 billion remains about one-tenth that of Tesla and there are numerous challenges ahead, including uncertainty about whether enough buyers will make the switch to electrics. Plug-in cars remain more expensive relative to gas-powered vehicles, and auto executives have acknowledged that demand in coming years will hinge in part on government incentives.

Some consumers still worry about their ability to find enough places to charge. Analysts also have raised concerns about a potential shortage of battery capacity as major auto makers rush to go electric.

General Motors plans to phase out nearly all of its gas and diesel vehicles by 2035. Leading that transition is the first fully electric Cadillac. WSJ’s Mike Colias visited a GM testing site for a ride and an exclusive interview with GM’s President Mark L. Reuss. Photo Illustration: Alexander Hotz

GM also says it can boost revenue by pushing into new business areas. It recently introduced car insurance that uses data about the owner’s driving habits to reward safer drivers with lower rates. A new electric-van service, Brightdrop, aims to help delivery companies like

FedEx Corp.

charge and manage their vehicle fleets.

“There are so many growth opportunities we have,” GM Chief Executive

Mary Barra

said during a media briefing. “Think about the vehicle not only as an electric vehicle, but as a software platform.”

GM pointed to a planned upgrade of its hands-free driving system, to be called Ultra Cruise, which it says will allow for hands-free operation in 95% of driving scenarios. Planned for release in 2023, the technology will use a laser-based, three-dimensional radar system, called lidar, and be capable of remote enhancements over time, the company said. It didn’t disclose pricing.

On electric vehicles, GM has said it is spending $35 billion by mid-decade to introduce 30 plug-in models globally, in a bid to grow sales of a technology that now accounts for only around 2% of global vehicle sales.

GM said it would show an electric version of the Chevrolet Silverado, its top-selling U.S. nameplate, at CES in January. The truck is expected to compete head-on with rival

Ford Motor Co.

’s F-150 Lightning electric pickup, which Ford says has generated more than 150,000 nonbinding reservations.

GM also said it plans an electric Chevrolet sport-utility vehicle that will be priced around $30,000, but didn’t detail timing. Its earliest electrics are pricey and expected to sell in relatively small volumes, including a $113,000 GMC Hummer pickup truck scheduled to go on sale late this year.

Analysts have said they would like GM to dimension the potential of its nascent business units so that investors can get a better sense of how the company can boost profitability beyond the relatively low margins of an auto manufacturer.

“Achieving a sustainably profitable Autos 2.0 business could further build GM’s credentials as a leader in the EV world and help prompt a rerating of the stock,” Deutsche Bank analyst

Emmanuel Rosner

said.

Meanwhile, GM’s profits have soared despite disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing computer chip shortage, as tight inventories prod customers to pay top dollar for GM’s priciest models. The company has said the four quarters stretching back to the third quarter of 2020 were the most profitable in its history, totaling $17.5 billion in pretax profit, excluding one-time items.

GM’s Electric-Car Bet

More WSJ coverage on the Detroit auto maker’s plans, selected by the editors.

Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com

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