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July 30, 2020 12:30 PM, EDT

GM Prodded to Catch Electric-Car Zeitgeist With Name Change

Charging stations for the SAIC GM internal vehicle sharing service stand in China in July 2019.Charging stations for the SAIC GM internal vehicle sharing service stand in China in July 2019. (Gilles Sabrie/Bloomberg News)

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General Motors Co. has weathered depressions, wars and pandemics under its century-old name, but the coming shift to battery-powered vehicles may be an opportunity to rethink its generic-sounding corporate moniker in favor of something avant-garde.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jones posed that challenge to Mary Barra, CEO of GM, on a conference call July 29 after the automaker reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings. His suggestion for a new appellation: Ultium, the brand name of GM’s electric-car batteries.

“The General Motors brand has done its job, but I’m wondering if it might be out of touch with some of the really interesting directions you’re taking the business,” he said. “Why not call the company Ultium, the entire company?”

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That suggestion follows the decision this month by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Peugeot maker PSA Group to adopt the name Stellantis after their planned merger early next year.

GM’s CEO replied diplomatically on the call, not ruling out a rebranding at some point but saying the automaker is focused on delivering on its EV strategy. Barra has said converting the massive number of cars on America’s roads to battery power from gasoline engines will take decades.

The carmaker’s proprietary batteries are key to its commitment to making its next-generation EVs profitable from the start. GM sells just one EV in the U.S. but is developing more than 20 plug-in models, the first of which will debut by late 2021.

Shares of rival Tesla Inc. have soared this year, buoying that dominant electric-car manufacturer’s valuation to a level seven times higher than GM’s market capitalization.

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