WASHINGTON — GM is probably getting too much credit for bucking the Trump administration's attempt to water down fuel economy and emissions standards. The electric vehicle mandate it proposed made for some good press, but it was only half the story.
True, it's not often that the private sector encourages government mandates.
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 the electric and plug-in hybrids it already makes.
As some environmentalists suspected, GM isn't fighting to retain the standards agreed to in 2012. It is trying to split the difference between the Obama and Trump approaches. It says the Obama targets for fleetwide fuel efficiency, now adjusted to about 47 mpg, are too difficult to achieve, while the Trump plan to freeze standards at the 2020 level is too much of a reversal. It recommended that fuel efficiency standards be allowed to incrementally rise each year at the "historical average."
In fact, the "historical average" of 1 percent fuel efficiency gain per year is about what automakers were achieving on their own before President Barack Obama forced them in 2009 to agree to a 5 percent annual fleet improvement.
That's not what clean-air advocates want, since pollution-emitting, gasoline-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. 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.
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