In 2011, the Obama administration proposed some of the strictest fuel economy rules for new cars and trucks in the world, and GM was on board, saying then that the rules were “a path forward that greatly improves fuel economy while preserving customer choice and future industry growth.” On Wednesday, GM declined to support the same rules even though in nearly ten years’ time climate change has only gotten worse.
GM did, however, signal its probably support for California’s proposed rules, which is a slight change from GM’s prior position, which was not opposing their right to set their own rules to begin with.
According to the New York Times:
General Motors on Wednesday told the Biden administration that it would agree to tighter federal fuel economy and tailpipe pollution rules, along the lines of what California has already agreed to with five other auto companies.
[GM CEO Mary Barra] stopped short of endorsing Mr. Biden’s desire to fully reimpose or strengthen the Obama-era auto pollution standards, which to date stand as the strongest policies ever imposed by the federal government to fight climate change. And she also asked the administration to augment the federal rules with provisions that would give incentives to auto companies that are investing in electric vehicles, although she did not specify what those incentives should be.
The Obama-era rules would’ve imposed mandated five percent yearly efficiency increases through 2026, while the Trump administration tried to roll that back to 1.5 percent. California’s rules, which Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and others have already agreed to, are estimated to be a 3.7 percent raise.
GM knows, in other words, that the Trump rules aren’t happening, so now it must choose between a strict option and a stricter one. GM’s choice is no great surprise given that GM exists solely for its shareholders, but, still, whenever this comes up, I think about GM in 2011, when it was perfectly happy to throw its engineering might behind doing the harder thing.
Because here, again, is GM in 2011, describing the Obama 5 percent rules:
General Motors has agreed in principle on proposed fuel economy standards from 2017 through 2025.
GM plans to pursue the technical challenge ahead and to lead in delivering new fuel-saving technologies in cars and trucks customers want to buy and can afford.
Reducing fuel consumption and lessening the automobile’s impact on the environment is important to our business because it’s important to our country and our customers. GM has the best lineup of fuel-efficient vehicles in the company’s history. The proof is in vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt electric car with extended-range capability; the compact Chevrolet Cruze Eco, which gets the best highway fuel economy of any gasoline-powered car, and the two-mode hybrid Silverado pickup truck, which gets city fuel economy that rivals a small car.
While future fuel economy targets are ambitious, the proposed CAFE rule represents a national approach and provides regulatory certainty for our industry. Additionally, the proposed rule includes flexibility that recognizes consumer needs and potential changes in technology and economic conditions.
I hope the Biden administration sees GM’s current proposal for what it is, which is a bid for weaker standards. I hope the Biden administration also proposes standards at least as strict as the Obama ones. If GM says stricter rules aren’t workable, the Biden administration should tell GM to talk to the people at GM who, in 2011, said they were. I’m sure some of them are still around.