G.M. Sets Exclusive Goals for EV Transition Come 2035

nytimes.com, 2/1/21.

The move, one of the most ambitious in the auto industry, is a piece of a broader plan by the company to become carbon neutral by 2040.

The days of the internal combustion engine are numbered.

General Motors said Thursday that it would phase out petroleum-powered cars and trucks and sell only vehicles that have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035, a seismic shift by one of the world’s largest automakers that makes billions of dollars today from gas-guzzling pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

The announcement is likely to put pressure on automakers around the world to make similar commitments. It could also embolden President Biden and other elected officials to push for even more aggressive policies to fight climate change. Leaders could point to G.M.’s decision as evidence that even big businesses have decided that it is time for the world to begin to transition away from fossil fuels that have powered the global economy for more than a century.

G.M.’s move is sure to roil the auto industry, which, between car and parts makers, employed about one million people in the United States in 2019, more than any other manufacturing sector by far. It will also have huge ramifications for the oil and gas sector, whose fortunes are closely tied to the internal combustion engine.

A rapid shift by the auto industry could lead to job losses and business failures in related areas. Electric cars don’t have transmissions or need oil changes, meaning conventional service stations will have to retool what they do. Electric vehicles also require fewer workers to make, putting traditional manufacturing jobs at risk. At the same time, the move to electric cars will spark a boom in areas like battery manufacturing, mining and charging stations.

Electric cars today are the fastest-growing segment of the auto industry, but they still make up a small proportion of new car sales: about 3 percent of the global total, according to the International Energy Agency. Sales of such cars jumped last year in Europe and China, but they remain niche products in the United States. They are bought primarily by affluent early adopters who are drawn to the luxury models made by Tesla, which dominates the business, and by environmentally conscious consumers.

A spokesman for Ford Motor declined to directly comment on G.M.’s move but said his company was “committed to leading the electric vehicle revolution in the areas where we are strong.” Several other automakers, most of them European, have previously pledged more modest steps in the direction that G.M. says it is headed. Daimler, which makes Mercedes-Benz cars, has said it would have an electric or hybrid version of each of its models by 2022, and Volkswagen has promised an electric version for each of its models by 2030.

G.M. said its decision to switch to electric cars was part of a broader plan to become carbon neutral by 2040. “General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe working to establish a safer, greener and better world,” Mary T. Barra, G.M.’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.”

G.M.’s announcement comes just one week after Mr. Biden signed an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department to quickly reinstate tough auto fuel-economy rules put in place during the Obama administration, and one day after he signed a follow-up order directing the federal government to purchase all-electric vehicles. He is also pushing for a new economic recovery package to include funding to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, and to create a system of rebates and incentives for purchasing electric vehicles.

On Thursday, a White House spokesman, Vedant Patel, welcomed G.M.’s new commitment. “We applaud efforts by the private sector to further embrace renewable and clean energy technologies,” he said. “As the president and many others have said, efforts like this will help grow our economy and create good-paying union jobs.”

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