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GM CEO reaffirms ‘commitment to electric vehicles’ while supporting revision of fuel consumption rules

Over the past year, GM has been claiming that “electric is the future” and that they see electrification as a “priority”. But at the same time, they have been supporting efforts to relax fuel consumption standards that would force them to produce more electric vehicles.

As President Trump’s administration is currently reviewing the rules, GM CEO Mary Barra reaffirms the company’s ‘commitment to electric vehicle’ in a blog post.

During the Obama era, automakers agreed to a plan to double their fleet-wide average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by 2025 in the US.

The plan would have encouraged them mass produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, like electric vehicles, in order to compensate for their highly profitable SUVs and pickup trucks, which cause more pollution.

Even though they originally agreed to the rule, the industry launched a renewed effort to change the rules since the election of Donald Trump as President and the appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA.

The automaker lobbying group, which includes virtually every automaker except for Tesla and a few French automakers, sent a letter to Trump’s transition team just two days after his election to lobby for him to relax the rules.

They repeated that effort on several occasions last year as Pruitt made it clear he was open to relax the rule despite the mission of his department to protect the environment.

GM officially backs the effort through its participation in the lobbying group, but it claims to have different goals for the review of the fuel consumption rules, like having higher credits for self-driving and ride-sharing fleets.

In a new blog post, Barra wrote that while they are supporting the revision of the rules, they support “improving fuel economy”:

Regardless of the outcome of these discussions, I assure you we have an absolute and unwavering commitment to improve fuel economy, reduce emissions and invest in technologies to drive an all-electric future. These are the right actions for our customers, our company and our environment.

Yet, the CEO also said that they want only one national standard.

Automakers who are supporting a national standard have been claiming that it is for the sake of simplicity and not having to deal with multiple sets of rules, but it has been associated with weakening California’s stronger standards.

Barra never mentioned California in her blog post. Instead, she wrote:

we have been transparent about our priorities for modernizing current rules: General Motors supports establishing one national set of fuel efficiency requirements, with flexibilities that take into consideration recent industry developments such as vehicle sharing and self-driving electric vehicles.

She also reiterated that they believe in the impact of the transportation sector on climate change:

Climate change is real. We recognize the transportation sector is a contributor, and we must be part of the solution. At General Motors, we take this challenge seriously. It’s a driving force behind our vision of a future with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.

The EPA is reviewing the rules and even considering trying to force states to stop following California’s more aggressive standards, but they already face several legal actions against them and it is expected to still be a long battle.

Electrek’s Take

I have a few issues with this. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but they are not making it easy.

Barra claims to have been “transparent” about their effort to “modernize” the rules, but I have to disagree.

They claim that they are supporting a review to get a national standard and for vehicle sharing and self-driving electric vehicles, but that’s certainly not the goal of the lobbying group that they are backing, which is clearly asking for less aggressive standards – citing low demand for electric vehicles.

I have asked several GM representatives to confirm that they support any change to the rules that would result in overall lower standards, but not one of them was able to confirm that.

Therefore, even if it’s true that they are pushing for a review in order to get a national standard and more vehicle sharing and self-driving electric vehicles, it sounds like they wouldn’t mind if it also results in lower overall standards.

If you agree that “climate change is real” and emissions from cars have an impact, then it is irresponsible to do anything that could result in more emissions, especially when we know that hundreds of thousands of deaths every year are linked to climate change.

I hope that I’m mistaken and that GM is contributing to this happening just to save some money in penalties, but I have difficulty believing in their commitment to EVs until they are making hundreds of thousands of them per year.

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