New GM Sustainability Report Charts Path To More EVs + Renewables (CleanTechnica Interview)

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Well, it’s not quite as drastic as Ford’s recent announcement, but GM’s new sustainability report demonstrates that the auto world is shifting under our very feet — or seats, as the case may be. Last fall GM dropped word that its plans for the sparkling green future include a 20-EV lineup, and the new report demonstrates how the EV behind whose wheel you will someday sit is just one cog in the great wheel of sustainable living.

In advance of releasing the new report, last week GM’s Director of Sustainability David Tulauskas spent some time on the phone with CleanTechnica to take a look behind the numbers on the EV plan and elsewhere. Following is our conversation (lightly edited for clarity and flow):

We Are Here…But Not For Long!

First off, Mr. Tulauskas explained that GM has an expansive view of electricity when it comes to powering the EV of the future. CleanTechnica has previously noted GM’s interest in fuel cell EVs, and that will continue to keep pace with its moves on battery-powered mobility:

We are very much committed to our 2017 [fuel cell] announcement with Honda. By 2020, part of the lineup of 20 new electric vehicle models does include both battery and fuel cell EVs, depending on appropriate applications.

Earlier this week, we also announced an expanded partnership with Honda to include next-generation batteries.

That 2017 agreement, by the way, involves a new $85 million fuel cell manufacturing plant, among other things. The new next-gen battery announcement came out on June 7.

GM Not Leaving ICEs Behind — Yet

Tulauskas emphasized that GM is tailoring its offerings for the global market, which is not one market. At the last count, GM was selling into 125 distinct markets.

So, while the company’s lineup will skyrocket from two to 20 EVs in the US (and from two to 10 in China), in other markets the company will be responsive to particular national policies — at least for the time being:

We are a long term focused company, and we are global. We sell into 125 markets. We anticipate that electrified vehicles are accelerating in key markets like the US and China. Brazil, India and Australia are committed to other fuels.

We are committed to meeting customer needs, so we will be pretty diverse over the next several decades.

Think biofuels and you’re on the right track. Brazil is already recognized as a leading biofuel market. India recently indicated that it is looking for biofuel to ease its dependence on imported oil, and Australia also announced that it would ramp up interest in biofuel this year.

Better Cars, EV Or Not

Considering that liquid fuel will be in the mix over the next number of years, Tulauskas also took note of a group of vehicle improvements that help make gasmobiles more efficient. Some apply to EV technology as well:

We are re-imagining every single pathway to maximize efficiency, like new lightweight materials. That includes mixed materials, for example. We are the only company with a patent for welding aluminum and steel together.

We are also downsizing engines and using turbo-charging for greater fuel efficiency and performance. Other elements are high-gear transmission and stop-start technology.

Altogether we’ve reduced average vehicle weight by 350 pounds, which saves an estimated 35 million gallons of gasoline.

The Autonomous Electric Vehicle Factor

As described by Tulauskas, GM sees safety, emissions and congestion advantages from autonomous vehicles, especially EVs. The car of the future will be electric, connected (here’s a new GM blockchain initiative for more on that) and shared:

Ninety percent of auto deaths globally are due to human error. Take that out of the equation by autonomous driving. Sensors are never distracted, their “eyes” are always on the road.

Autonomous driving also minimizes congestion. Think of the average commuter sitting in traffic, so there is an environmental benefit as well as saving time.

Our Level 5 autonomous vehicles in 2019 will have no steering wheels or break pedals. These Level 5 applications will be shared services, for example shared mobility fleets in densely populated areas.

Tulauskas also notes that when it comes to autonomous driving technology, “the environmental and societal challenges of today are business opportunities for tomorrow:”

A lot of people don’t have access to safe, reliable, affordable solutions, for example people who are blind or disabled.

The cost per mile of driving an autonomous vehicle is significantly less when these vehicles can be in operation for 20 or 24 hours a day.

On Beyond Driving…

Our conversation wrapped up with an overview of GM’s community engagement profile:

There is a lot of activity, for example in STEM education. We are a high tech company built on innovative approaches. We need global talent, and a lot of that talent is in STEM.

We need to make sure that STEM pipeline grows. We are trying to make it bigger so there is a lot of focus on motivating students in STEM fields.

Out-of-classroom experience is also an area focus, through GM’s Student Corps job program, which consists of teams of 10-12 students. With mentoring and support from GM, the participants are “empowered to make a difference in the community” by developing and carrying out service projects.

We also talked about GM’s renewable energy initiatives. Tulauskas pointed out that by the end of this year, GM expects to meet 20% of its global electricity demand with renewables.

He also noted that so far, GM is the only US automotive company committed to 100% renewables by 2050. With the help of two new wind power deals, the company already has met that goal locally in three US states: Texas, Ohio, and Indiana.

…And On Beyond The Paris Agreement On Climate Change

As for the future, Tulauskas reaffirmed GM’s long term commitment to clean tech in general, and EVs in particular:

It’s amazing the commitments, action and progress that businesses have taken since the 2015 Paris Agreement. It’s great to see business stepping up, and GM is fully committed to a future of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.

Our commitment to a future that’s electric is unwavering. Ninety percent of our global volume is in markets where fuel economy or emissions standards are getting more stringent each year.

Want more details? The new GM sustainability report is out now. Here’s a snippet on the electric vehicle angle:

Our portfolio will be built on an all-new modular EV platform with agile battery technology. This will allow us to create a building block approach that meets changing customer demands and supports multiple drive configurations across geographic regions at lower costs. That’s important in driving towards a future that is all-electric and profitable.

And the fuel cell factor, too:

Fuel cell technology remains a component of our overall electrification strategy. It offers a solution that can scale to larger vehicles, such as trucks that have heavy payload requirements and operate over longer distances. GM has worked on fuel cells since their inception more than 50 years ago, and today is among the patent leaders in the field.

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Photo (screenshot): via GM.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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