Doubts remain over GM's commitment to electric cars

Doubts remain over GM’s commitment to electric cars

General Motors has joined forces with the Environmental Defense Fund to recommend stricter emissions rules for passenger cars.

In a surprising move, General Motors this week teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to recommend stricter emissions rules for passenger cars. But skeptics remain unconvinced by the company’s stated commitment to turning green, citing GM’s history of fighting stricter fuel-economy rules.

GM and EDF recommend that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set standards to ensure that at least 50% of new cars sold by 2030 will be zero-emissions while achieving a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a roadmap that aligns well with GM plans to make all of its models electric by 2035.

Dan Baker, director of the Climate Safe Transportation Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity, says the automaker has only made promises before to stay away from it later. Baker cites GM’s commitment to support California’s right to make its own clean air rules, which it later rescinded by supporting former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit to end the state’s exemption.

“They reneged in really big ways,” Becker says. “I think they want to be seen as making clean cars, but they really don’t.”

Electric propulsion is real: Electric cars are coming, and GM wants government rules that give all automakers a clear path to get there, says Kristen Seimen, GM’s chief sustainability officer. The company’s Chevy Bolt EV has been in the market for six years, and GM has already spent a large portion of its $35 billion budget to bring 30 electric vehicles to market by 2025. “We’re committed,” Simin says. “The plans are very much in line with our product plan.”

While GM’s biggest push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions comes from its electrification plan, Simin says the automaker will also improve the fuel economy of its internal combustion vehicles. Government data shows that fuel economy for GM trucks and large SUVs has been stable since 2018, but hasn’t improved much for larger engines.

GM isn’t alone in its balancing act — old automakers are in trouble. On the one hand, they need to push toward electrification to meet future regulations and because, as Tesla Inc. Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular. But to fund this conversion, they have to build spacious gasoline-powered cars that often have the lowest fuel economy.

Right now, automakers mostly sell luxury electric cars priced at $42,000 and up. GM has a Bolt EV for less than $30,000 and will build a larger, more spacious Equinox Chevrolet starting at $30,000 next year.

“Going forward, if you look at our electric vehicle portfolio, it covers every price point and every segment,” Simin says.

But California’s skyrocketing volatility is raising Baker’s doubts about the automaker’s willingness to follow through. In 2011, the company committed to “not objecting” to California’s waiver allowing the state to set its own fuel economy and emissions rules. Dan Akerson, former CEO of General Motors, stated this in a signed letter to the US Department of Transportation. GM later joined Trump’s lawsuit to overturn the waiver. Then, with Joe Biden taking office in 2021, GM withdrew from the lawsuit.

“Because of GM’s track record, I’m really skeptical,” Becker says.

The Union of Concerned Scientists takes a similar view. Dan Anner, director of the University of California’s Clean Transportation Program, said in the email. “The EPA needs to move forward quickly with the next round of standards so we can reduce emissions in the coming years. Strong standards are the only thing that will ensure GM and all automakers make the needed emissions reductions.”

General Motors suggested just that. Now the company needs delivery.

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