WASHINGTON -- GM is probably getting too much credit for bucking the Trump administration's attempt to water down fuel economy and emissions standards. The EV mandate it proposed last week in comments to the EPA and NHTSA made for some good press, but it was only half the story.
True, it's not often that the private sector encourages government mandates -- in this case for electric vehicle sales targets. So the proposal for a national zero emission vehicle program, modeled on the one in California, that could help replace up to 7 million vehicles with EVs by 2030, is certainly newsworthy. GM also has a self-interest in forcing the market to EVs given it has 20 zero-emission models in development on top of electric and plug-in hybrids it already makes. It's a self-interest environmental and health advocates support to combat the dangers of global warming.
GM officials briefed reporters about the NZEV program in detail Thursday and made general comments distancing themselves from the Trump plan to freeze standards at the 2020 level. The formal comments, however, weren't publicly available until Monday morning, and they told a different story.
As some environmentalists suspected, GM isn't fighting to retain the existing standards agreed to in 2012. It is trying to split the difference between the Obama and Trump approaches to clean cars. It says the Obama targets for fleetwide fuel efficiency, now adjusted to about 47 mpg, are too difficult to achieve, while the Trump plan represents too much of a reversal. It recommended that fuel efficiency standards be allowed to incrementally rise each year at the "historical average."
That's not what clean-air advocates want, since pollution-emitting, gas-powered vehicles will still dominate for years to come. They don't see progress on EVs and fuel standards as an either/or proposition.
GM also seems to undercut California's ZEV program, which has more aggressive EV targets for automakers to hit each year. By 2025, car companies would need 8 percent of sales in the state to be battery electric or fuel cell. Under GM's national plan, about 5 percent of vehicles sold would need to be of the new energy variety. That would be an easier flight path for GM, assuming the federal government could win court approval to impose its will on California.
In all, the proposal wasn't the bold statement of defiance it was made out to be.