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Transport Canada Embraces GM’s EV Mandate, but GM Canada Isn’t So Sure

Transport Canada is lining up behind General Motors’ call for an electric vehicle mandate in the United States, just days after the giant automaker unveiled a plan that puts it odds with the Trump administration’s effort to roll back the country’s fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.

“Transport Canada welcomes GM’s zero-emission vehicles proposal and will be considering it in greater detail,” Senior Media Relations Advisor Marie-Anyk Côté told National Observer Monday.

“GM looks forward to discussing the proposed U.S. National Zero Emission program with the Canadian government,” replied GM Canada communications director Jennifer Wright.

In a recent submission to U.S. regulators, GM urged the government to get seven million long-range EVs on the road by 2030 and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 375 million tons, rather than trying to fight California’s zero-emission vehicle sales mandate. Automakers have long been nervous about Trump picking a fight with California and the 18 other states that have adopted its tougher standard, fearing the uncertainty the market would face in the course of a protracted court battle.

But with GM in the United States “taking a leadership position in at least offering an alternative to what could be this endless battle between the federal government and California,” in the words of Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs, GM Canada is saying only that it will sign on to whatever plan the Trump administration eventually adopts, Observer reports.

“The GM proposal for a U.S. 50-state Zero Emission Program, if adopted, would be a government-mandated and required program,” Wright said. “If the U.S. adopts that new mandated program, we would support Canada aligning with it.”

Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, was even more equivocal.

“At this point in time, this is one company’s proposal that they’ve made in response to the consultations on those same standards in the United States,” he said. “My organization hasn’t discussed (the U.S. proposal) collectively at this point. I’m not sure whether they will, to be truthful…the ultimate goal here is to have a single national standard right across the United States. Canada should not step out ahead of that, until decisions are made.”

With Canada’s share of global EV sales down from ninth in 2016 to 11th in 2017, Clean Energy Canada and Équiterre both say the country needs a mandate similar to the one GM is proposing in the U.S.—consistent with policies already in place in Quebec, California, and other U.S. states.

“The main barrier to increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles in Canada remains lack of inventory at dealerships,” said Équiterre government relations director Annie Bérubé. “A national ZEV mandate in Canada remains the most cost-effective policy the federal government could implement in its upcoming Zero Emission Vehicle strategy to reach our target of 30% of new sales being electric vehicles by 2030.”

The federal government was due to release an EV strategy this fall, but has not yet done so.

In related news Thursday, GM announced buyout packages for 18,000 salaried white collar workers in Canada and the U.S., despite recording US$3.29 billion in third-quarter profits. The company cited the rise of electric and autonomous vehicles as a reason to prepare for tougher times ahead.

Earlier in October, InsideClimate News reported that the Big Three U.S. automakers had “shifted toward big, heavy vehicles that drink more fuel per mile” and put most of their considerable marketing muscle behind those models, essentially because they can imagine no other option to turn a profit.

“The American manufacturers haven’t figured out how to make money on cars,” Safe Climate Campaign Executive Director Daniel Becker said at the time. “They only make money on pickup trucks and SUVs. So they are seizing on temporarily low gas prices and…politicians like Trump to shift production to the most profitable vehicles they make.”