SINGAPORE (Dec 3): In a sweeping transformation to prepare for a future of electric and self-driving cars, General Motors, the world’s top automaker, last week moved to shut down five North American plants, laying off 14,000 people, by the end of next year. The factories to be shuttered not only made internal combustion engine-based passenger cars but also the hybrid Chevy Volt. In their place, GM is adding capacity at plants that will make its pure-battery electric car Chevy Bolt, and throwing more money at Cruise, its driverless car unit, in San Francisco.

The move by CEO Mary Barra is clearly a sign of the times. GM has been undergoing a makeover for nearly a decade since it was rescued by US taxpayers at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008. The auto behemoth has been gradually exiting the manufacturing of lower-margin passenger cars in North America to focus on higher-margin sport utility vehicles (SUVs), pickups and trucks. Among the Big Three US automakers, GM has also been the most aggressive in its China strategy and its focus on the future — electric and driverless cars. Barra’s strategy has been to concentrate on “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion”, the euphemism for electric, autonomous and ride-sharing.

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