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Is This a Sign That General Motors Is Planning A Bolder Move Into Electric Cars?

GM is gearing up to produce the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt at its factory in Orion Township, Michigan. GM hasn't yet announced any other cars using the Bolt's technology, but there are hints that a sibling for the Bolt might be in the works. Image source: General Motors

General Motors (NYSE: GM) is gearing up to bring its affordable electric car, the Chevrolet Bolt, to market by the end of this year.

The Bolt is a small crossover SUV that was designed with urban environments and ride-hailing services in mind. It lacks the "coolness" of Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ: TSLA) upcoming Model 3, which has generated some 400,000 pre-orders. 

GM seems OK with that: Multiple reports have suggested the Michigan factory that will produce the Bolt is set up to make around 30,000 of the electric crossovers a year, though GM officials say it could make considerably more Bolts if buyers wanted them.

But the flexibility of that Michigan factory, along with some intriguing hints from GM, suggest that GM could be planning a much bigger move into electric cars beyond the Bolt.

GM is about to have a bunch of extra room at the Bolt's factory
GM is tooling up to build the Bolt at its factory in Orion Township, Michigan. That factory was "saved" during GM's bailout and tasked with making small, fuel-efficient cars. That it does: Orion currently makes the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic and compact Buick Verano sedans.

Orion was also expected to start making a new small Cadillac crossover SUV soon, but here's where it starts to get interesting: That plan was scrapped earlier this year.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the plan to invest $245 million in the Orion factory to build an upcoming new small Cadillac crossover SUV has been cancelled, because GM has decided to build the new Caddy in a Kansas factory instead.

The Journal's report characterized the decision as a cost-saving move. But now comes word that another product currently made at Orion, the compact Buick Verano sedan, will soon be discontinued. Automotive News reported on Monday that while GM has launched an all-new version of the Verano in China, it won't be building that car in the U.S. Instead, the existing Verano will be discontinued after the 2017 model year.

Orion Assembly is expected to continue producing the Chevy Sonic until at least 2019. But its other products have been cleared out. That doesn't make sense -- unless GM is planning to move something else into the Orion factory.

Something else like more electric-car models.

Could a more dramatic electric car be in the works from GM?
Could GM be planning a bolder move into electric cars in the wake of Tesla's stunning success with Model 3 preorders?

Think about this: The Bolt isn't likely to steal very many sales from Tesla -- it just isn't that kind of car. But what if GM is planning another electric car? What if it's something very different, something more Tesla-like?

The Bolt is kind of endearingly homely, more functional than sexy. But there's no question that GM's design team can do jaw-dropping gorgeous designs when called upon to do so. We saw in the Buick Avista concept earlier this year.

The Buick Avista concept was unveiled in January. The concept was a hybrid -- but what if GM produced it, or something like it, as an electric? Image source: General Motors

Now consider: What if GM launched an electric car that looked like the Avista? What if it started around $40,000, with a nice interior in the current understated Buick style, all-wheel drive, some sort of fast-recharging capability, and thrilling performance -- for less than a loaded Model 3? 

Think that would get some attention?

The takeaway: Something could be brewing here
I don't know for sure what GM has in mind. But I think the fact that it seems to be clearing other products out of its Orion factory just as it's gearing up to build the Bolt suggests that it might have something more ambitious planned.

It makes sense to me that the next GM electric car might be a flashy "halo" for the Buick brand. But obviously there are other potential electric vehicles that might make sense. Long story short: Don't be surprised if, a year from now, it turns out that GM's electric-vehicle plans are a lot bigger than we currently realize.