DETROIT—General Motors, after abandoning its effort to fight California on emissions guidelines last year, has now moved closer to aligning itself with Ford Motor Co. and other auto makers that made a deal with the state in 2019.
GM, which wants a single nationwide emissions standard, said it now supports using California's emissions framework as a guide to federal policy, though with a greater focus on electric vehicles. GM, which is investing more heavily in EV development than many of its rivals, is asking for the federal policy—expected in July—to include incentives that would accelerate EV sales.
Such incentives, which might include credits or multipliers, would facilitate "mass adoption" of EVs by consumers as well as investment in the necessary charging infrastructure, GM CEO Mary Barra said in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan that was obtained by Automotive News.
"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," Barra wrote.
Barra's letter followed a proposal by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., that the EPA adopt greenhouse gas regulations for all light vehicles through the 2026 model year that match the voluntary standards laid out in the 2019 agreement California reached with Ford, Volkswagen Group, Honda Motor Co. and BMW.
Barra said GM supports California's emission reduction goals through the 2026 model year but believes the EPA should ensure it "recognizes the investments and leadership made by GM with its early, committed focus on EVs" as it establishes a federal standard. GM would be able to meet emission goals more easily if EVs are selling in higher volumes because of greater consumer demand.
Carper, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, called for the EPA to set an emissions standard for vehicles beginning with the 2027 model year that would require half of new vehicles to be zero-emission by 2030 and all new vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035.
GM aims to have a fully electric light-vehicle lineup by 2035. It plans to invest $27 billion in autonomous and electric vehicle development and launch 30 EVs globally through 2025, including the GMC Hummer pickup this fall and Cadillac Lyriq crossover next year.
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, applauded GM's alignment with most of California's framework.
"Together, the government and the auto industry can act to create jobs, reduce pollution in our communities and save families money at the gas pump," he said in a statement last week. "GM's announcement today is a signal that progress toward that cleaner future is becoming unstoppable."
Some question the overall environmental benefit of additional EV credits for auto makers.
"Because the credits go beyond actual in-use CO2 reductions, it means that the overall manufacturer's fleet can emit more CO2 and still comply with the requirements," said John German, an automotive consultant who has worked for Honda, Chrysler and the EPA.
GM, in a statement, said it would achieve the goals outlined in California's framework with "a combination of continuous improvement of (internal combustion) as well as focusing on EVs from 2023 to 2026 MYs to align with the Biden administration's efforts to support EVs and ultimately setting the industry on an irreversible path towards a zero-emissions future."
John DeCicco, a research professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, said Barra's letter signals that GM is transitioning to a more flexible policy position, but "the issue is the continuing overemphasis on these very ambitious electrification goals while downplaying the need to improve efficiency across the board."
If regulators give credit for selling EVs that are worth more than the emissions they reduce, the rest of an auto maker's fleet can emit more greenhouse gas, he said.
"It's all good in terms of posturing. In terms of the environmental bottom line, the numbers don't really add up for making even moderate progress," DeCicco said.