DETROIT—Fourteen years ago, General Motors surprised the industry by unveiling the Chevrolet Volt, a car meant to kick-start the auto maker's journey toward electrification.
In another 14 years, GM hopes to sell nothing but electric vehicles.
It has set a goal of discontinuing anything with a tailpipe by 2035 en route to becoming completely carbon-neutral by 2040—a decade sooner than the target Ford Motor Co. proclaimed just last summer.
"It puts that line in the sand for General Motors. It gives the organization a focal point from top to bottom to say, 'This is what we're working for,' " Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit, told Automotive News.
And getting there means transitioning from a portfolio composed of just one EV in the U.S. today to one in which even the auto maker's hulking pickups and high-performance sports cars are battery-powered.
Last week's proclamation came after GM progressively deepened its commitment to electrification over the past year. The auto maker plans to invest $27 billion in electric and autonomous vehicle development and launch 30 EVs globally through 2025. GM also has developed proprietary batteries with LG Chem and launched BrightDrop, a commercial EV brand.
GM aims to sell zero-emission vehicles across a range of price points and segments, power its facilities with renewable energy and work with stakeholders to build a charging infrastructure and promote customer adoption of EVs.
"To get there we'll have 100 percent of our portfolio fully electric, and that's the vision we're setting," Dane Parker, chief sustainability officer, said on a call with reporters last week.
Ending production of gasoline-powered vehicles is an impressive goal, but it makes little sense for certain situations, Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars, said in a statement.
"There will likely always be use cases where gasoline or diesel makes the most sense," he said. "Right now an EV isn't practical for a multi-day camping trip to the middle of nowhere, and it's far from the most efficient way to transport cargo across the country."
GM CEO Mary Barra acknowledged that owning an EV today is illogical for many consumers because the right vehicle isn't in the market or access to charging is limited where they live and work.
"That is why it is critical we improve the fuel efficiency of the gas- and diesel-powered vehicles many people still rely on for their families and their livelihoods," she wrote on LinkedIn. "This is also why it is so important we deliver a full range of electric vehicles. It's why we are working to improve access to renewable-energy charging and why, with our Ultium technology platform, we are advancing the technologies necessary to increase the range of EVs."
Some components of EV adoption are out of GM's control and could lead them to miss the 2035 target, but "it's less important that they make the goal than what [the goal] can do for them in terms of a focal point for the organization," Brinley said.
GM says it will decarbonize its portfolio by transitioning to EVs or other zero-emission technology and sourcing renewable energy. Despite the sweeping actions, GM expects to invest sparingly in carbon credits or offsets to account for remaining carbon issues, the company said in a statement.
"Our preference will always be for removal of emissions. This is a critical step on the path to a net-zero-carbon future," Barra said.
The auto maker aims to have all of its U.S. sites powered by renewable energy by 2030 and global sites by 2035, and it created a sustainability council with its suppliers to share best practices and create new industry standards, the statement said.
"This is the time for this change ... and an inflection point that we want to seize," said Parker. "We'll look back on this time as an excellent time to accelerate this transition."