In an ambitious and historic announcement, General Motors last month said it will stop making gasoline-powered passenger cars by 2035 and offer an all-electric lineup. It’s no coincidence that the announcement comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Biden has strongly signaled sweeping policy changes to provide market incentives for electric vehicles, and he has already ordered the conversion of the 645,000 cars in the federal fleet. That kind of public-private action is how climate change has to be confronted.
The Trump administration’s hostility toward climate-change mitigation was so pronounced that at one point, several major automakers balked at dropping their emissions standards to the levels the administration was offering. GM wasn’t among them, and in fact the company in the past has pushed for ever-lower standards. That’s what makes this move so significant: GM has clearly determined that, now, evolving away from the use of fossil fuels is good business.
Former President Donald Trump’s efforts to unwind everything the Obama administration had done to address global warming was in part personal — one more manifestation of Trump’s childish animosity toward his predecessor. But Trump was also playing to the climate-change-denial movement that has embedded itself in the mainstream GOP over the past few decades. For one of America’s two major parties to be vested in this anti-science mythology is dangerous for all kinds of reasons. GOP stonewalling has stymied the development of alternative technologies that will be needed as reliance on fossil fuels becomes increasingly untenable.
That makes GM’s bombshell all the more important. The company said it will invest $27 billion in electric vehicles and related products through 2025, exceeding its investments in gas vehicles. By the end of that year, almost half the company’s U.S. models will be battery powered. GM has made clear it’s not merely adding electric vehicles to its existing lineup but is transforming that lineup completely. Americans won’t be able to buy a new gas-powered GM car after 2035.
This isn’t a decision GM would be making if it didn’t view it as both necessary and profitable. It’s an opening volley that competing carmakers won’t be able to ignore.
Though the shift in government policy has incentivized GM to make this historic move, the fact that it comes from the private sector means it’s not something a future Republican president will be able to just unwind as Trump did. With transportation currently accounting for almost a third of human-caused greenhouse gases, it’s not overstating things to say GM has put America irreversibly on the road to climate sanity. And all it took was a clear signal from a sane presidential administration.