Can GM keep its promise to ditch the internal combustion engine?

In case you missed it, General Motors made headlines around the world last month when it announced it was on track to eventually ditch the internal combustion engine. “General Motors will phase out light cars and gasoline and diesel SUVs by 2035,” said The Washington Post. “GM will phase out gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2035,” echoed The Wall Street Journal. The automaker then backed up its ad with a cheeky Super Bowl ad featuring comedian Will Ferrell who pledged, “We’re coming, Norway,” referring to the country with the highest electric vehicle market share.

It’s huge, isn’t it? The company, once the world’s largest automaker and firmly associated with gas-guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban, is supposed to say goodbye to internal combustion on an explicit date that’s in the stadium with tentative deadlines given by three states. Americans, European countries like Great Britain, Sweden, France and Spain, and – most importantly – China, which has the largest automobile market in the world.

But before we burst the organic champagne, let’s take a step back. What did GM, which after all aligned itself with the Trump administration by rescinding Obama-era fuel economy regulations, actually say? He said the company has “a aspiration [my emphasis] eliminating exhaust emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035. That’s not a firm commitment, is it? Some conservationists and enthusiasts of electric vehicles are skeptical. “GM is not actually saying that it will end production of gas-guzzling gas by 2035,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a goal.”

To its credit, the company is candid about the ambitious nature of its announcement. “The central point is that we are firmly committed to being carbon neutral by 2040,” said Jessica James, deputy director of sustainability communications at GM. Sierra. “It’s happening. But some things have to come together to meet the 2035 deadline, it’s beyond our direct control. ”

James said GM wanted an extension of the electric vehicle tax credit for electric vehicles, more government investment in electric vehicle infrastructure and federal research funds for next-generation battery research. “These things together could get us to the big inflection point, with customers en masse opting for electric vehicles,” she said. “Think of it as an ambitious goal. We believe we can do it, but it will take a huge effort. ”

Or, in other words, GM’s ability to meet its goals depends on the alignment of other political and market stars. “Nobody is forcing them to do this,” said Mike Ramsey, vice president and analyst at business consultancy Gartner. “I think GM is serious in the sense that this is an ambitious goal. If the market doesn’t move in that direction fast enough, they won’t stop making engines and gas tanks just because they said they would. Consumers need to make the change in droves.

Car collector Jay Leno, host of Jay Leno’s garage, had a similar take. “It’s admirable that GM made that statement – now they have to respond to it,” Leno said. Sierra. Leno is a well-known lover of historic power, but he’s also an avid green car enthusiast, covering 90,000 miles in his Chevrolet Volt, which he says he only had to refuel once a year. Leno believes that in the future, today’s vintage Mustangs, Ferraris and Corvettes may be relegated to rare recreational or track use, while electric cars dominate the roads. “Technology is changing at a voracious pace,” Leno said. “Give the engineers a task and they can comply with it.” If you had said in 1965 that GM would be able to build a 2021 500-horsepower Corvette that would cover almost 30 miles per gallon on the highway, people would have laughed.

While Leno is probably right that in the long run, today’s gas guzzlers will ultimately be collectibles and curiosities, the fact remains that American drivers have yet to make the big mistake. change. In 2019, Americans bought 330,000 battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, or less than 2% of new cars and trucks sold. BloombergNEF estimates that electric vehicles will account for 28% of global passenger sales in 2030 and still only 58% by 2040. If these numbers are correct, GM’s target could be ahead of the market. It makes GM’s extended focus look like a bit of smart marketing.

Environmentalists have reason to be wary of GM, given its past decisions, which include dropping – weeks after last year’s election – a Trump-era lawsuit against the UN’s unique ability. California to set its own strict standards for fuel economy and emissions. “How can we trust the promises of GM and other automakers when they reneged on their commitment to meet the standards they negotiated with Obama? Becker asks.

Some supporters of the green car have nonetheless praised the pivot, however conditional it may be. Plug In America Executive Director Joel Levin says, “We applaud General Motors for making a commitment to switch to electric vehicles and phase out their gasoline and diesel engines by 2035. However, we also look forward to see cars arrive in dealership showrooms as soon as possible. as possible. We would not want a long-term commitment to electric vehicles to hamper efforts to bring cleaner vehicles to market now. ”

Electric vehicles have to ‘go far’ with mainstream appeal, but early adopters tend to be very green. A recent Plug In America survey found that 60% of respondents who own electric vehicles cite the environment and air quality as the “most important” reasons for buying the car, and 96% said their next purchase will also be electric.

While GM’s announcement is a big deal given the size of the company, some automakers have made more ambitious statements that have less wiggle room than GM’s. Volvo, for example, claims that 50% of its sales volume will be fully electric by 2025. And, surprisingly, venerable luxury automaker Bentley, with its “Beyond 100” strategy, is following suit. “We’re going to completely switch to an electric offering by 2030,” Bentley said.

The point is, almost all automakers are doubling the number of electric vehicles and planning for their future dominance. The arrival of the EV era is not really a question of if corn when. “GM’s announcement to be fully electric by 2035 indicates the direction they are heading, but the timeline is quite uncertain,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at the forecasting firm. Edmunds automobile. “And, of course, 14 years is a long time. GM’s schedule could be accelerated or extended. But the Detroit-based company is sending a signal that it intends to be in that market. And although they are part of the old guard, they insist on changing over time.

Tell President Biden that eliminating transportation pollution must be high on the country’s to-do list.

There is no doubt that times are changing and the old guard is under pressure from a new vanguard. Companies like Tesla are unveiling new models of electric vehicles that could convince us to forget about the muscle cars of yesterday. The Tesla Model S Plaid Edition shoots to 60 miles per hour in under two seconds and can hit 200 mph. And let’s not forget Rimac, the Croatian hypercar company whose electric CTwo is said to be even faster. For Rimac, the prowess of electric vehicles has led to lucrative supplier contracts with Jaguar, Hyundai and others.

Developing a new car is a four- or five-year proposition, which means automakers have to plan for a future landscape that doesn’t yet exist. It’s clear that GM, after surveying market signals and political trends, is establishing a roadmap for a fully electric future. And, at the same time, it’s also clear that GM is giving itself just enough space to return to the status quo. All of this prompts environmentalists and electric vehicle advocates to keep a close watch on GM and other historic automakers, making sure they keep their big promises.

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