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By V. John White, Special to CALmatters

General Motors is taking greenwashing to an entirely new level.

In response to President Donald Trump’s proposal to roll back Obama administration regulations on fuel standards, General Motors last month proposed to place five million electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

GM’s half-measure is a distraction at best. At worst, it would jeopardize California’s progress on advanced clean vehicle technology, end our state’s authority to enact policies we need to clean our air and kill the nation’s money-saving existing tailpipe pollution standards that were developed in California. Worse yet, GM’s stunt could slow our efforts to tackle climate change.

I have spent a career working for a cleaner environment, and participated in the development of the original zero emission vehicle standard in 1990, during Republican Governor George Deukmejian’s Administration. I know greenwashing when I see it.

In used car terms, GM’s plan is a lemon with a flashy new paint job. GM shared its scheme on the final day for public comments on the Trump administration’s disastrous plan to abandon Obama’s ambitious but attainable fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles.

A decade ago, Obama pushed to save GM from bankruptcy. The company ran into trouble in no small part because it had overinvested in high-cost gas guzzlers which consumers rejected when gas prices rose. After getting its bailout, GM agreed to Obama’s proposal.

Now, it is seizing on an opportunity to benefit from the policies of a president who questions climate change. It also must be hoping to distract consumers from the fact that it and other American automakers actually kick-started this rollback by lobbying Trump to kill the tailpipe standards.

GM is calling for a national zero-emission vehicles program that would require automakers to sell a minimum number of zero-emission vehicles in all 50 states using a credit model based on California’s existing incentive program, which has been adopted by nine other states.

Sounds great, right?

The reality is that this plan would be a major setback, doing more harm than good by ending the current law.

As it is, any state with significant air pollution problems—and most states do have bad air—can adopt California’s ZEV program. GM’s proposal could strip states of this authority and replace it with one national plan, jeopardizing the health of millions of people.

A recent analysis from Union of Concerned Scientists shows that GM’s proposal —with its baked-in loopholes and off-ramps—would result in less than 5 percent zero-emission vehicle sales nationwide by 2025.

Add in the special exemptions GM seeks, and you would have ZEV sales as low as 3-4 percent by 2025.

GM’s proposed number is especially pathetic considering the exponential uptake of these vehicles, thanks to the dropping price of battery technology and an increase in range.

Electric vehicles made up 6 percent of California’s total car sales this year. And this number doesn’t include sales in the nine other states that have adopted the California-style program.

On a global scale, GM’s targets are laughable. By 2030, zero- or low-emission vehicles will account for 100 percent of new car sales in Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands and Norway, and London, Barcelona, Brussels, Cape Town, Copenhagen, and Oslo.

First movers will own the future car market. If GM is serious about leading on electric vehicles, why is it proposing a standard that is far weaker than what states already have on books, and ludicrously out of step with the global trend toward electrification?

This proposal is not just out of touch, it’s dangerous. It threatens the national money-saving mileage and emissions standards and state authority under the Clean Air Act.

If GM wants to do right by consumers and the planet, it should support the current fuel economy standards and condemn any attack on state authority that threatens the existing ZEV programs. A flaccid national program would be bad for California, bad for other states, bad for the auto industry, and bad for the planet.


V. John White is executive director Center For Energy Efficiency And Renewable Technologies in Sacramento, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.