GM sold 2.55-million vehicles in the US last year, but only about 20,000 were EVs, the Chevy Bolt hatchback. Picture: SUPPLIED
GM sold 2.55-million vehicles in the US last year, but only about 20,000 were EVs, the Chevy Bolt hatchback. Picture: SUPPLIED

Washington — General Motors (GM) said on Thursday it is setting a goal to sell all its new cars, SUVs and light pickup trucks, with zero exhaust emissions by 2035, a dramatic shift by the largest US carmaker away from petrol and diesel engines.

GM, which also said it plans to become carbon neutral by 2040, made the dramatic announcement just over a week after President Joe Biden took office pledging to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and boost sales of electric vehicles (EVs).

GM sold 2.55-million vehicles in the US last year, but only about 20,000 were EVs, the Chevy Bolt hatchback. It said in November it was investing $27bn in electric and autonomous vehicles over the next five years, up from $20bn planned before the coronavirus pandemic.

CEO Mary Barra has aggressively pushed GM to embrace EVs and shift away from petrol-powered vehicles.

She said in a statement that GM had worked with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an environmental advocacy group, to “develop a shared vision of an all-electric future and an aspiration to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035”.

Morgan Stanley automotive analyst Adam Jonas said the decision is “based principally on economic grounds ... Would GM decide to wind down a business in under 15 years if it truly felt it would spin off cash and provide positive economic value?”

Jonas added that investors should look for most, if not all, carmakers “to follow GM’s precedent”.

In September, California governor Gavin Newsom said the state plans to ban the sale of new petrol-powered passenger cars and trucks starting in 2035. Several states, including Massachusetts, say they plan to follow suit.

Newsom called GM’s announcement a “game-changer” but the California Air Resources Board said “if GM is serious about cleaning up the air our children breathe today, it must also drop its defence of the Trump administration’s rollbacks of federal vehicle emissions standards”.

GM and other major carmakers sided with Trump in 2020 in a legal challenge to his rollback of federal vehicle emissions standards up to 2026. However, in November, GM withdrew from a separate legal case in which it had sided with the Trump administration effort to bar California from setting its own vehicle emissions rules.

Last week, Biden directed US agencies to reconsider the Trump emissions rollback and the revocation of California’s emissions authority.

GM is “open to working with California and the Biden administration to achieve agreement on a national standard and complementary policies to accelerate the electrification of the light-duty transportation sector”, the company said in a separate statement.

However, in announcing the change, GM reaffirmed a commitment to producing zero-emission vehicles. “We’re taking actions so that we can eliminate tailpipe emissions by 2035,” Dane Parker, GM’s chief sustainability officer, said at the media briefing. “Setting a goal for us 15 years from now is absolutely reachable.”

EDF president Fred Krupp said in a statement: “With this extraordinary step forward, 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 carmaker’s business plan.”

GM also said it will source 100% renewable energy to power its US sites by 2030 and global sites by 2035, five years ahead of a prior goal.

More than half GM’s capital spending and product development team will be devoted to electric and electric-autonomous vehicle programmes, GM said.

On Monday, Biden vowed to replace the US government’s fleet of roughly 650,000 vehicles with electric models as the new administration shifts its focus towards clean energy.



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