General Motors managed to alienate the full spectrum of potential allies with its call last week for the Trump administration to introduce an electric vehicle mandate, with other automakers complaining they’d received insufficient notice of the announcement, a fossil lobbyist accusing the company of looking for government handouts, and green groups accusing GM of greenwashing.
“If there was a way to make more people mad, I’m not actually sure I know what it is,” an anonymous source told E&E News. “This seems like a stupid way to make literally everyone in Washington mad at you.”
“General Motors Co. was hoping for a positive reaction when it made an eye-popping announcement last week about boosting electric vehicles,” E&E reports. “Instead, America’s largest automaker was flooded with criticism.”
Within the auto industry, sources told E&E that other companies found out about the release when GM circulated an embargoed news release a few hours before it went public. Its position broke with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which had just submitted comments to a review of Trump’s proposed vehicle fuel efficiency rollback that were supposed to speak for all 12 member companies.
“We didn’t know about it ahead of time,” one source said. “I think their embargo lifted at 12:01. So we found out when everybody else did. I didn’t even find out until seeing [GM CEO] Mary Barra’s op-ed. We just were caught off guard like everybody.”
Dan Becker, executive director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said other automakers might have supported GM’s position if they’d known about it far enough in advance. And that missed opportunity had him skeptical about the company’s intentions.
“When they really want something, they know how to go about trying to get it,” he said. “But they just sort of shoved this out there, pissing everybody off.” That action “gave me the sense that they really aren’t serious about it. It was just for purposes of green-scamming, or pretending they’re doing something environmental when they really aren’t.”
Fossil ally Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, said his group would stand against a GM proposal that he saw as a request for government handouts for electric vehicles. He also speculated the company might be counting on Trump departing the White House after the next U.S. federal election in 2020.
“GM’s proposal is a tacit admission that they can’t sell electric vehicles without government subsidies and mandates,” Pyle told E&E. “Politically, it is a thumb in the eye” to Trump, with a proposal that “is surely dead on arrival in the White House”.
Environmental groups cast the announcement as a bid to draw focus away from GM’s support for the fuel economy rollback.
“With transportation accounting for more than one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. must continue its transition to clean, electric vehicles,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of the U.S. Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign. “However, General Motors’ proposal is a desperate attempt to distract from their support for Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back the clean car standards.”
Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, cast the announcement in similar terms, calling it a “distraction from preserving the existing, commonsense tailpipe pollution standards.”