GM turns the tables in EV proposal
General Motors, facing the imminent expiration of its U.S. tax credits for electric vehicles, is now pushing for a federal mandate to keep the momentum going.
In a defiant response last week to the Trump administrations proposal to freeze fuel economy and emissions standards, GM outlined its own proposal for a national zero-emission vehicle program, modeled on the one pioneered by California and adopted by nine other states.
The proposal puts GM directly at odds with the administrations anti-regulatory stance on environmental issues and out ahead of its competitors in pushing EVs on a somewhat reluctant public.
How seriously the Trump administration will take it is unknown, but the proposal underscores GMs intent to seize on its advantage in EVs, even if that means a more aggressive federal role.
GMs proposal was accompanied by criticism of the Trump administrations plan to roll back the Obama administrations fuel economy and greenhouse gas reduction programs and freeze the targets at 2020 levels.
"We know that we can do better" than that plan, Mark Reuss, GMs executive vice president of global product development, said ahead of the Friday, Oct. 26, deadline for comments on the proposal, according to Bloomberg. "We know that the industry can do better than that."
Others in the industry, too, have voiced support for keeping the program generally on track, with some added flexibility. During a public hearing last month, Ford Motor Co. and the UAW were among those opposed to the proposed freeze. And last week, Honda reaffirmed its support for incremental increases in efficiency standards.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, meanwhile, asked officials to revise the Obama administration rules to account for slow car sales and low gasoline prices.
Much to gain
Complete details of GMs NZEV program werent available as of Friday, but GM said it includes mandates that would require automakers to sell more battery-electric and hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles each year. It also proposes adding ZEV compliance credits for vehicles being used in ride-hailing and autonomous fleets.
GM, which has touted its own vision of a zero-emission future, would have much to gain if such a proposal were adopted.
Already a leader in marketing electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, GM is at the beginning of an ambitious plan to launch 20 new zero-emission vehicles through 2023, on its way to selling 1 million annually by 2026. It also has plans to launch autonomous ride-hailing fleets as soon as next year.
"As the U.S. works toward modernizing fuel economy standards, we call for expanded focus on advanced technologies with maximum potential to transform transportation and our economy," GM CEO Mary Barra wrote last week in an op-ed for USA Today. "This includes the use of electric vehicles as autonomous vehicles, as well as in ride-sharing programs."
Environmentalists were cautious about reading too much into GMs proposal without further details.
David Reichmuth, a senior engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed concern that GMs recommendation might undermine states efforts if a national program replaced them. GMs graduated credit plan would amount to an EV sales rate of less than 5 percent by 2025, compared with Californias 8 percent target, he noted.
Nationwide, fewer than 1 percent of registrations in 2017 were full EVs, according to IHS Markit. In California, the biggest market, EVs accounted for 2.6 percent of registrations.
If GM is silent in its formal comment on the rollback of emission standards to 2020 levels, then the proposal "is kind of a distraction from saying we need more efficient gasoline cars and we need to make the transition to electric vehicles," Reichmuth said. "It certainly cant be one or the other and trying to play them off each other."
Reichmuth questioned whether a national program would be enough to get automakers to promote EV sales outside the states where theyre already promoting them. "So they could just continue doing what they are doing now," he said.
Jeremy Acevedo, Edmunds manager of industry analysis, called GMs proposal "a surprise" and "a far departure from the companys historically lax stance on fuel economy standards."
He labeled it an effort to bridge a chasm between California regulators and the federal government that could lead to costly complexity for automakers if they have to build vehicles for two different markets.
California, using authority under federal law to set its own emissions standards, requires automakers to sell a certain number of battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to earn compliance credits, or buy credits from companies that exceed the requirements.
Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont have adopted Californias ZEV program.
The California Air Resources Board estimates that automakers will need to reach less than 8 percent ZEV sales by 2025 to produce enough credits to meet requirements, and sales are ahead of target.
But Californias authority to set its own clean-air standards is under challenge from the Trump administrations proposal.
GM says a nationwide program such as the one it proposed could put 7 million long-range electric cars on the road and slash 375 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, compared with existing ZEV mandates.
GMs proposed ZEV requirements start at credits equivalent to 7 percent of each automakers sales in 2021, edging up to 15 percent by 2025 and 25 percent by 2030. Credits would be awarded based on the number of ZEVs sold and on EV range, among other factors, GM said, so the 15 percent figure for 2025 works out to a sales rate of just under 5 percent.
The program would end when the 25 percent target is met, or if its determined that battery cost or infrastructure targets make it unfeasible.
A GM spokesman said that whether its proposal is adopted, it remains committed to its previously announced goals surrounding ZEVs.
"Its very simple," said Reuss, according to prepared remarks to reporters last week. "America has the opportunity to lead in the technologies of the future. Now is the time."