As Governments Signal Coming End for Gas-Power Cars, General Motors Joins the Race for an “All-Electric” Future

As Governments Signal Coming End for Gas-Power Cars, General Motors Joins the Race for an “All-Electric” Future

By Brendan Sage, Staff Contributor

Proclaiming that the company “believes in an all-electric future,” GM executive Mark Reuss announced on October 1st that the company will build two new all-electric car models in the next 18 months, and 20 all-electric models by 2023.[1] The company said the move was made in pursuit of its vision for a zero emissions future.[2] While even electric-only cars are far from emission-free, they do average 60 percent fewer carbon emissions than gasoline-only vehicles and 27 percent fewer emissions than regular hybrid vehicles.[3] Their widespread use would represent an important step in the global pursuit to significantly reduce humanity’s carbon footprint. GM’s announcement was followed quickly by one from rival Ford, which announced plans for 13 new all-electric models over the next several years.[4]

The move away from gasoline by two of the world’s largest automakers is somewhat influenced by changing consumer demands, but government policy proclamations have certainly accelerated long-term planning for a lower-emission future in the auto industry. In 2017, both the U.K. and France have announced plans to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2040.[5] India has also announced an “aspirational target” of having only electric-powered cars sold in the country by 2030.[6] Even more influentially, Xin Guobin, Chinese vice-minister of industry and information technology, announced in September that the country would consider banning the sale of gas and diesel-powered cars “in the near future.”[7] Having claimed the title of world’s largest auto market at the beginning of this decade,[8] China’s emissions policies hold enormous sway over global automakers’ long-term decision-making. Global policy changes are forcing the auto industry to quickly adapt, even as the United States exits the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Trump Administration announces plans to revisit Obama-era rules aimed at limiting emissions from certain new medium and heavy-duty vehicles.[9]

In the United States, automakers are also certain to monitor emissions-cutting proposals at the state and municipal level, which are likely to accelerate following President Trump’s decision to exit from Paris. Just this week, California Assemblyman Phil Ting announced his intention to introduce a bill banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in the state by 2040.[10] California Governor Jerry Brown has also reportedly asked the state’s Air Resources Board to explore the feasibility of such a ban.[11] It is important to note that the passage of any such legislation is not imminent, and would likely face resistance from conservatives at the federal level, given the influence a gas-powered car ban in California would have nationwide. Yet even consideration of aggressive emissions-reduction policies at the state level is likely to spur contingency planning and action by leading automakers, as has already occurred in response to policy proposals made abroad.

Even though the debate over carbon emissions regulation has evolved in the United States, the announcement by GM is significant. Despite a 60 percent global increase in the number of electric cars in 2016, electric vehicles still account for only 0.2 percent of the global light-duty vehicle stock.[12] Only in Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands do they account for more than 3 percent of the national vehicle stock.[13] Yet the U.S.’s largest automaker, which has been making gasoline-powered cars for more than a century, has announced it will move toward making only electric-powered vehicles in the not-too-distant future. GM’s announcement shows the growing influence of environmental policy proposals made beyond the United States and is likely to be followed by similar developments in countless other industries in the years to come.

[1] Bill Vlasic and Neal E. Boudette, G.M. and Ford Lay Out Plans to Expand Electric Models, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/business/general-motors-electric-cars.html.

[2] Kevin Kelly and Elizabeth Winter, GM Outlines All-Electric Path to Zero Emissions, GENERAL MOTORS CO. (Oct. 2, 2017), http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2017/oct/1002-electric.html.

[3] Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles, U.S. DEPT. OF ENERGY, https://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php (last visited Oct. 4, 2017).

[4] Vlasic and Boudette, supra note 1.

[5] Alanna Petroff, These countries want to ban gas and diesel cars, CNN MONEY (Sep. 11, 2017, 8:30 AM), http://money.cnn.com/2017/09/11/autos/countries-banning-diesel-gas-cars/index.html.

[6] Anil Kumar Jain, Investment ‘Lock-ins’ and Technological Advancements in the Energy Sector, NATIONAL INSTITUTION FOR TRANSFORMING INDIA, http://www.indiaenergy.gov.in/blog_4.php (last visited Oct. 4, 2017).

[7] China to ban production of petrol and diesel cars ‘in the near future’, THE GUARDIAN (Sep. 11, 2017, 12:52 AM), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/11/china-to-ban-production-of-petrol-and-diesel-cars-in-the-near-future.

[8] World’s 10 Largest Auto Markets, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2011/09/12/Worlds-10-Largest-Auto-Markets.html?page=11 (last visited Oct. 4, 2017).

[9] EPA Announces Intent to Revisit Provisions of Phase 2 Heavy-Duty Rules (Aug. 17, 2017), U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY,  https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-intent-revisit-provisions-phase-2-heavy-duty-rules.

[10] Alexei Koseff, California lawmaker wants to ban gas car sales after 2040, THE SACRAMENTO BEE (Sep. 29, 2017, 12:01 AM), http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article176030626.html.

[11] Ryan Beene and John Lippert, California Considers Following China With Combustion-Engine Car Ban, BLOOMBERG, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-26/california-mulls-following-china-with-combustion-engine-car-ban.

[12] Global EV Outlook 2017: Two million and counting, INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY, 5-6 (2017), https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/GlobalEVOutlook2017.pdf.

[13] Id. at 5.

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