Cleveland, Ohio – General Motors hopes to phase out production of gasoline-powered cars by 2035, focusing instead of electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen-powered cars and trucks. While significantly less than 1% of the company’s sales now come from zero-emissions vehicles, GM is in the midst of a $27 billion spending boom to prepare for an environmentally friendly future.
“GM is joining governments and companies around the globe working to establish a safer, greener, and better world,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.”
Once considered a laggard in green vehicles as the target of the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” and the company criticized by environmentalists for supporting former President Donald Trump’s efforts to weaken fuel economy rules, GM has doubled down on clean transportation throughout the past few years.
The company launched the Chevy Bolt EV in 2017, its first EV available for sale at dealerships and the first long-range EV available for less than $40,000 in the country (beating Tesla’s Model 3 to the market by nearly a year). It’s in the process of launching production of the GMC Hummer EV truck late this year and had plans for electric vans and other vehicles in 2022 and beyond.
Despite those investments, the automaker still expects to make the bulk of its money on traditional vehicles for the next several years. And, the company’s announcement isn’t a rock-solid guaranty of its plans.
Online, within a few hours of GM’s announcement, The Washington Post’s headline was, “General Motors to stop making gas-powered passenger cars and SUVs by 2035.” At the New York Times’ website, the banner read, “G.M. Will Sell Only Zero-Emission Vehicles by 2035.”
However, the automaker is leaving plenty of room to fall short of its goals. The plan to stop sales of emissions-producing vehicles by 2035 and be carbon neutral by 2040 is uses the word “aspiration” many times.
“We have worked with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to develop a shared vision of an all-electric future and an aspiration to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035,” Barra said (emphasis added by the editor).
The plan will also require far more investment than the $27 billion GM is spending throughout the next few years to launch several new EVs. Parts of the company’s existing plants – stamping, body weld, assembly, paint, suspension – will be able to transition to an electric future seamlessly. But, billions of dollars of plants dedicated to engines, powertrains, fuel systems, and most likely transmission components won’t be needed.
Barra addressed some of those concerns, saying the 14-year target gives the company time to make an orderly transition.
“Our employees have worked tirelessly to bring General Motors to this moment. They know better than anyone that for many of our customers, making the transition to an EV is simply not possible right now – either because the appropriate vehicles do not exist or because access to charging is limited where they live and work.” Barra said. “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. This is also why it is so important we deliver a full range of electric vehicles, including pickup trucks, SUVs, and even electric vans. It’s why we are working to improve access to renewable-energy charging and why, with our Ultium [battery] technology platform, we are advancing the technologies necessary to increase the range of EVs.”
The United Auto Workers (UAW) expressed support for the plan while remaining cautious about the transition. While Canada’s Unifor union last year made winning EV programs a priority, the UAW’s last contract with the UAW, reached in late 2019, focused more on traditional cars and trucks.
“Even with these new product goals, it will be some time before the transition occurs,” UAW officials said. “But the important thing is that President Biden agrees with our position that any new jobs replacing combustible engines are union wage and benefit jobs that are created right here in the U.S. And, we believe the Detroit-3 will locate these new products right here in the U.S.”
Environmental groups praised GM, and its stock price jumped about 4% by mid-day Thursday (GM stock price has more than doubled in the past six months as it has stressed its commitment to EVs). And, they say they hope other automakers will follow Barra’s call.
Ford made similar calls in 2019 and last year when some automakers backed Trump’s plan to slash fuel economy standards. Last year, when California announced regulations that will outlaw sales of new gasoline-powered cars in that state by 2035, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed his executive order on the hood of a Ford Mustang Mach-E crossover, a vehicle that went on sale late last year.
“GM is making it crystal clear that taking action to eliminate pollution from all new light-duty vehicles by 2035 is an essential element of any automaker’s business plan,” said EDF President Fred.
Recent EV investments by GM to support transitioning to an all-electric future include:
- $2.5 billion to build Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture in Lordstown, Ohio, with LG Chem to make battery cells for future vehicles
- $800 million to retool its CAMI manufacturing plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, to make the EV600 electric van, part of GM’s BrightDrop system that will include powered pallet jacks to load cargo into the Ultium-powered vans
- $2 billion in Spring Hill (Tennessee) Manufacturing to build fully electric vehicles including the luxury Cadillac Lyriq
- $2.2 billion to retool its Detroit Hamtramck plant for EVs, including a name change to Factory Zero (reflecting zero emissions)
It also plans to make electric and autonomous vehicles for Honda as part of a partnership with that automaker.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 19 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.