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GM is investing in new V-8 gas engines, EV components

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Assembly line workers work on the chassis of General Motors full-size pickup trucks at the Flint Assembly plant on June 12, 2019 in Flint, Michigan.

JEFF KOWALSKI/AFP/Getty Images

FLINT, MI – General Motors Company plans to invest nearly $1 billion in four U.S. plants to support production of components for electric vehicles as well as the next generation of V-8 engines, signaling gas-powered trucks and performance cars for the foreseeable future.

The $918 million investment GM announced Friday comes despite the automaker’s plans to exclusively offer all-electric consumer cars by 2035. It’s the latest example of how aging automakers like GM are having to balance their current lineup of vehicles with new electric vehicles.

“Without a doubt, our commitment is to the future of all-electric vehicles,” Gerald Johnson, GM’s head of global manufacturing, told reporters after the announcement. “We know it has a horizon, and there are a lot of internal combustion engine customers here and there that we don’t want to lose.”

Most of the investment — $579 million — will go toward preparing GM’s Flint Engine Operations plant in Michigan for the automaker’s sixth-generation small-block V-8 gas engine family.

The engines are used in some of the automaker’s highest-grossing products, such as full-size pickup trucks and SUVs. They were also used in some Cadillac and Chevrolet performance cars.

GM said work at the Flint plant will begin immediately, signaling that next-generation V-8 engines are on the horizon. The automaker declined to provide timing, performance and other engine details. The last new family of V-8 engines appeared in 2013.

The rest of the investment will be made at other parts facilities in Michigan, Ohio and New York for gas-powered parts such as camshafts and manifolds, as well as castings to support future electric vehicles, GM said.

Like the company, leaders of the United Auto Workers union noted the need to invest in both traditional operations and electric vehicles.

“Will there be electricity tomorrow? Is it in another 10 years? You still need an internal combustion system until the technology is perfected for electric vehicles,” UAW Vice President-elect Mike Booth told CNBC.

UAW President Ray Curry, who is running for a runoff to retain his position, said the union welcomes investment in both areas as the industry and its workers transition.

“We want to be able to make sure that existing operations are strengthened and that new operations coming into the network have the capital investment to move forward,” he said.

The union, which plans to negotiate with GM later this year, wants the new electric vehicle jobs to be classified the same as their traditional engine and transmission jobs. The company, in contrast, expressed the need for most of the work to be at lower wages in order to be competitive.

Booth, who heads the UAW’s GM division, called Friday’s investment a “big deal” but said it would not affect future negotiations.

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