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GM pushes national electric car plan as Trump tries to roll back emissions standards

General Motors is calling for the federal government to start a nationwide program that would put more elect...

Posted: Oct 31, 2018 3:13 AM
Updated: Oct 31, 2018 3:13 AM

General Motors is calling for the federal government to start a nationwide program that would put more electric vehicles on the roads and turbocharge innovation.

The company announced the plan Friday in response to the Trump administration's proposal to roll back fuel economy requirements.

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GM's plan would be modeled on California's Zero Emission Vehicle program. Automakers would be required to sell a certain percentage of zero emissions vehicles, which are usually electric powered, or pay credits to other companies that make such vehicles.

"We believe in a policy approach that better promotes US innovation and starts a much-needed national discussion on electric vehicle development and deployment in this country," said Mark Ruess, GM's executive vice president in charge of product development, in a statement.

GM believes the program could put more than 7 million long-range electric vehicles on America's roads by 2030. The proposal would spur investment in infrastructure, such as electric charging stations, and create jobs, GM said.

The Trump's proposal, made in August, would essentially undo the Obama administration's requirements and freeze fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions standards at 2020 levels. Carbon dioxide causes global warming.

A program like this could make good business sense for GM. It would give the company a competitive advantage over most other automakers. GM has already invested heavily in creating the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Chevrolet Volt plug-in vehicles and committed to launch 20 emission-free models by 2023. That could include hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which also qualify as zero emissions.

Under GM's proposal, 7% of vehicles each automaker sells in 2021 would have to qualify as "zero emissions." Carmakers would get partial credit for cars like the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, that run emissions-free part of the time. The 7% requirement would then increase annually, rising to 15% by 2025 then to 25% by 2030.

Automakers that don't meet the requirements could buy credits from companies that do, providing an incentive for automakers to surpass the goal.

Today's auto fuel economy and emissions rules were hashed out between the Obama administration and California. California has long had the right to set its own emissions rules, which are followed by other densely populated states. Trump has proposed taking away the so-called California waiver, a move certain to cause lengthy court fights.

By contrast, a plan like GM's could help maintain parity between federal standards and California-led states by moving the rest of the country toward California's solution.

"One thing automakers have constantly talked about it is that they want one national standard," said Michelle Krebs, an industry analyst with Autotrader.com.

The plan could also put the US more in line with Europe and China, places where electric vehicles are also being heavily promoted. Keeping those major global markets in step with one another is also good for the industry, Krebs said, helping automakers to more quickly recoup investments in electrics cars.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, however, expressed skepticism of the plan, noting that it could actually undercut California's more aggressive standards. GM's stated goals would represent less than 5% of new vehicle sales in 2025, the environmental group said in a statement, while, in California, electric vehicles already make up 6% of the market.

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