General Motors on Wednesday announced some of its wants for a redefined policy for vehicle greenhouse gas regulations. In all, it strikes a more uplifting chord—and soundly supports California’s policy direction.
The automaker’s new policy position was included in a letter provided to EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Tuesday, seen by Green Car Reports and cited in excerpts by the company Wednesday.
With it, GM is still asking for something more, however: a “compliance pathway.”
What does that mean? In policy-speak, it’s a codeword for flexibility. National standards through model year 2026 would coincide with neither the lax Trump-era rules nor the stricter Obama-era rules. Instead, they’d align with the compromise voluntary agreements automakers reached with California in 2019 and 2020.
That, GM suggests, could segue into California’s ambitious targets—on a national level.
GM CEO Mary Barra - Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors
“GM supports the emission reduction goals of California through MY26 and believes that the same environmental benefits can and should be achieved through a high-volume electric vehicle pathway that will set the industry on a stronger trajectory to greater GHG reductions in MY2027 and later,” said GM CEO Mary Barra, in the letter. “We believe an electric vehicle compliance pathway is a key component to setting the industry on an irreversible path towards a zero-emissions future, which can only be achieved with a tailpipe-free light duty fleet.”
The term “irreversible” is noteworthy, as auto-industry leaders have been pushing for a trajectory reverse course with each Presidential election. An especially memorable policy moment of the past several years happened when automakers, after lobbying heavily for the Trump administration to lift Obama-era fuel economy requirements, indicated once the process was underway that they might not want to roll them back after all.
Barra also noted that such a pathway would provide time to build an EV infrastructure (and coordinated policies), to help meet Paris Climate objectives, and to provide a model for 2027-2035 objectives.
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“With this letter, GM is not only communicating our endorsement of California’s C02 reductions, but we are also calling for federal reductions at the same levels, achieved through stronger acceleration of EVs.” stated GM, in an expanded background statement on the policy. “We believe this pathway at the federal level will encourage high volumes of electric vehicles across the United States and will achieve the same environmental benefits through 2026 and set the industry on a stronger trajectory to greater GHG reductions in MY2027 and later and establishes the United States as a leader in electrification.”
The new position more cohesively pulls GM away from an odd period in which it was asking for multiple, seemingly contradictory policy positions. It spent most of the past four years holding onto its idea of an EV-inclusive single national standard for fuel-efficiency requirements, while simultaneously fighting an unpopular fight against California’s tighter environmental requirements that mandated EVs—all while CEO Barra talked up the company’s all-electric future.
Last November, after the outcome of the Presidential election was apparent, GM switched allegiances, halting its challenge of California clean-air standards and seeking to align with them.
Once again, it appears California is taking the lead. It presented a comprehensive overview last month outlining its 2026-2035 Advanced Clean Cars II program—due yet to be written out as a policy proposal—that would require 80% EVs by 2035, with more tightly defined plug-in hybrids for the remaining 20%. The California program also proposes tighter driving-cycle requirements for models with tailpipe emissions and a new battery durability requirement for EVs.
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Those are objectives within the ZEV states, which currently includes about 30% of the U.S. new-vehicle market and could approach 40% of the market by the time the new requirements start.
GM has said that it “aspires to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035,” with a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2040. It’s underway now with an investment of $27 billion through 2025 and plans for the introduction of 30 EVs globally.
Environmental Defense Fund, which has been especially critical of some of GM’s policy decisions in recent years, called the announcement “welcome news,” and noted that the government and the auto industry together can create jobs, reduce pollution, and save families money. “GM’s announcement today is a signal that progress towards that cleaner future is becoming unstoppable,” said Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp.
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“Today’s action by GM demonstrates that companies seeking to prosper in the new global marketplace of zero-emitting vehicles—and take responsible action on climate change—will rise to the President’s challenge,” Krupp said.
GM said that it seeks, with any EV mandate, coordinated policies for charging infrastructure, consumer education and incentives, and battery R&D.
The timing appears to be part of a coordinated push. President Biden has proposed an ambitious $174 billion, within his infrastructure plan, toward electric vehicles and charging infrastructure. An expansion of the federal EV tax credit—to up to $12,500—is potentially a big part of that.