Major automakers, including GM, are waiting for the Trump administration to decide in a few weeks whether to modify ambitious fuel economy targets aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions for the 2022-25 model years. The industry agreed to the efficiency and pollution standards during the Obama administration, but petitioned President Donald Trump a year ago to revisit the EPA's final determination that the standards are feasible to meet. It argued the review was fast-forwarded 18 months for political reasons without the benefit of current data on costs, sales, technological advances and other factors.
Automakers say they just want a fair review to determine if old assumptions are still valid, but public interest groups fret that the industry is seeking looser standards to keep down compliance costs.
Barra reiterated the auto industry's position for a single set of standards governing NHTSA, the safety regulator that determines fuel efficiency requirements; the EPA; and California, which has authority to set more stringent standards if it disagrees with the federal approach.
"One common standard allows us to advance innovation for our customers today and tomorrow," she said.
And the standards should be modified, she added, to factor in the growing trends of shared and autonomous electric vehicles.
Last year, GM said it would eventually phase out internal combustion engines in favor of alternative fuel powertrains and in early October announced it plans to launch a mix of at least 20 new all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles globally by 2023. Early converts will be based on the current Bolt EV architecture.
Automakers sold 1.2 million plug-in electric and plug-in hybrids worldwide last year, mostly because of more affordable batteries. China and Europe are putting regulatory pressure on the auto industry to deploy EVs.
But sales of EVs in the U.S. have grown slowly, hampered by low gasoline prices, higher purchase prices and consumer anxiety about running out of fuel while driving.
To increase consumer acceptance, Barra called on Congress to increase the $7,500 federal tax credit, which begins to phase out once a manufacturer sells 200,000 units. GM and Tesla are both expected to hit that threshold later this year.
She also urged the energy industry to partner with automakers on developing a nationwide charging network for EVs and develop more renewable sources of energy.
"In the U.S., electric vehicles from all manufacturers have access to about 17,000 public charging stations, but additional stations will be needed as more consumers discover the benefits of EVs. This is particularly important because the growth of the electric vehicle market will support other innovative and advanced mobility solutions like car-sharing, ride-sharing, and self-driving vehicles," Barra said.
"We recognize the challenge that coal still generates about 30 percent of electricity in the U.S. and 65 percent in China," she said. "When we improve the percentage of renewable power sources in our grid, we can further reduce the carbon footprint of EVs" and create a more sustainable world.