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Inside Factory Zero, where GM is betting big on electric vehicles

The future of electric vehicles
General Motors aims for all-electric vehicles by 2035, but challenges lie down the road 05:33

On the assembly line at a General Motors plant outside Detroit, Michigan, there are two things autoworkers like Mark Owens will never see again: Gas tanks and internal combustion engines.

"Completely different. I never thought I would see an all-electric vehicle where we didn't have any gas tanks in it," Owens told CBS News' Ben Tracy.

The GM plant makes the Chevy Bolt, the company's only mass-market fully electric vehicle, but that's about to change.

Mark Reuss, president of GM, said electric cars will no longer be a novelty for the rich. GM is now betting big on batteries and is planning to launch 30 new electric vehicles across a wide range of price points in the next five years.

"It's the biggest thing that the industry's seen in a long, long time," he said.

The automaker company is rebuilding their 4.5 million square foot plant in Michigan and calling it Factory Zero, as in zero emissions. The name of the street out front also got changed to Electric Avenue.

CBS News got a look inside Factory Zero, which plant manager Jim Quick said was the factory of the future.

"This body shop, when complete, will be the biggest body shop in all of General Motors," Quick said.

Factory Zero will soon produce an electric version of the once-notorious gas-guzzling Hummer and this summer GM will launch the larger version of the Bolt called a EUV.

In the United States, transportation accounts for almost one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.

Part of President Biden's infrastructure bill would help people buy greener electric cars, which are more expensive. GM said it plans to stop making gas-powered cars by 2035. In their statement, GM said they aspire to eliminate tailpipe emissions.

"There's a little bit of wiggle room in there. The aspiration to do that is really gonna be based on the consumer and how well we solve some of the problems that people perceive around electric vehicles," Reuss said.

Reuss wants to fight back on the perception that electric vehicles are more expensive than standard cars. Batteries, which make up about 70% of an electric vehicle's cost, are now getting cheaper.

GM is building and testing them in house to further drive down costs. Automakers are also counting on the federal government.

President Biden's infrastructure plan calls for 500,000 new EV charging stations across the country by 2030. Alissa Priddle, an editor for MotorTrend, said automakers will soon offer consumers far more EV options.

"The reason that people don't buy EV's right now is they don't want some funny little pod that doesn't do what they need for their lifestyle or their family," she said.

According to the market analysis group called IHS Markit, out of the 250 million vehicles on American roads, less than 1% are electric.

IHS Markit found that last year EV's accounted for just 2% of all U.S. auto sales. Almost all of those were sold by Tesla, which is now worth more than GM, Ford, and Toyota combined.

The tailpipe is an endangered species because states such as California and Massachusetts and countries including Japan, the U.K., and the entire European Union are soon going to ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles to combat climate change.

Ford just announced it will go all-electric in Europe by 2030. It's already selling a battery-powered Mustang in the U.S. and next year, it will electrify the best-selling vehicle in the country — the Ford F-150 pickup truck.

"You really cannot afford, as an automaker, to not have a full portfolio of electrified vehicles in the next five years, or you are going to be left behind," Priddle said.

Electric vehicles make up more than half of all new cars sold in Norway. In recent ads, GM is telling Americans that there is no way Norway should be king of the EV road.

As many automakers make the switch to electric vehicles, Reuss said he expects some of the companies won't survive the transition.

"That desire to win is very deep, and so I would say anybody that is making electric vehicles now or in the future is high motivation for us to win," he said.

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