GM, Toyota, & FCA Are Beyond Redemption — This Is Too Much!

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Cleantech enthusiasts have had issues with GM, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) for years. GM was infamous for how it handled the EV1 and that whole era of automotive policy. Toyota has been one of the loudest and most persistent automakers pushing senseless hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and FCA tried harder than perhaps anyone else to not sell EVs — former Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne even asked that consumers not buy their original electric Fiat 500e. They’ve been some of the “challenging” ones.

On the other hand, I have been keen to recognize and give props to leadership when it pops up. The Chevy Bolt was the first long-range semi-affordable electric car on the market in the USA and has long trailed only Tesla vehicles in sales (though, by a wide margin — a humongous margin). The Hummer EV puts a big and powerful name behind GM’s electrification program (though, admittedly, a niche one that will see a tiny number of sales) and the Lyriq looks like a compelling electric Cadillac. GM claims major progress in the battery field and is building a couple of battery factories — that’s good stuff. FCA’s Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a good and unmatched plugin option in the minivan market, and the 500e is one of the cutest cars on the market and a lot of fun. (Though, admittedly, the Pacifica Hybrid isn’t 100% electric and the company won’t even make it clear in the name that it has a plug, and as I already mentioned, Fiat actually tried to anti-sell the 500e.) Toyota led the world with hybrids, but then tried to lock the world into the lame hybrid era rather than use that good reputation to also be a leader on pure battery-electric vehicles. It also either smoked too much hydrogen or tried to pull a hydrogen scam over on us. The nicest assumption is that it got high on its own supply.

But then there was the fuel economy nonsense under the Trump administration. Yes, a big part of that was Trump and his tremendously corrupt cabinet and advisers. They tried to destroy California’s and several other states’ right to have better fuel economy standards and cleaner air than other states. (So much for states’ rights.) However, automakers had a clear choice: side with a corrupt, anti-scientific, spiteful, global warming–denying lunatic or stick to the responsibilities they agreed to with California and Obama.

As Steve wrote earlier today, “The rules agreed to in 2011 called for an annual increase of 5% in emissions standards. The former administration wanted to limit yearly increases to a paltry 1.5%.” Then he added that, “Five manufacturers — Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo — agreed to a deal with the California Air Resources Board that would limit increases to 3.7% a year, hoping they could get those ‘other companies’ to agree.” Now, let’s be clear: Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo were proposing something lower than what was previously required by California under the state’s longstanding right to do so — before Trump decided to go and attack California’s right to clean up its air. Looking at this cynically, these automakers might have been using the opportunity to offer a “compromise” or middle ground that would stand up over time in the case that Trump lost re-election (which he obviously did). The more generous take is that they were trying to find an amenable, decent way forward that got around Trump’s challenges in the best way possible. Who knows what was more at play — the devil or the angel on their shoulders?

But the huge disappointment — one of the biggest corporate disappointments in the Trump era — came from GM, Toyota, & FCA. It was truly heartbreaking. These companies decided to side with #45 over common sense and science. They decided to throw California and the other ZEV states in the dumpster. As a commenter noted earlier today, those 13 states make up make up 42% of the US economy. GM, Toyota, & FCA decided to screw them and their wishes and requirements regarding the climate, air quality, and fuel economy. GM comes across as especially egregious since 1) it was completely bailed out by the US government under the Obama–Biden administration (well, so was Fiat), and 2) it’s an American company (again, throw Fiat in there). All of these automakers, though, really “stuck their neck out there” politically to fight climate progress, cleaner air, lower transportation costs, and honoring one’s commitments.

If you decided that, “hey, it was a crazy time and they were just trying to survive” or something like that, though, then 2021 is the year to stop offering forgiveness and a second chance to repeat offenders.

Indeed, Dana, indeed. Well, I’m not using that language, but I agree with the sentiment that these automakers have been getting off too light.

With the tyrant Trump out of office and no longer holding a big club over their heads (a reference to Neanderthal tactics), there is no good reason to be shirking their fuel economy duties. But what do these anti-science companies do? How do they decide to block out their climate responsibility and attempt the slowest transition to clean electric vehicles possible? This is how, according to the Associated Press: “A coalition of automakers has told the Biden administration it would agree to raise mileage standards to reduce tailpipe emissions but with tradeoffs and at rates lower than those brokered by California with five other car manufacturers.”

The still want to offer less than the deal Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo brokered last year, which was itself inadequate and shirking earlier commitments.

But let’s not quite stop yet. This ain’t over.

These companies have made a couple of claims for years while fighting stronger auto standards. One is that consumers just don’t want clean electric vehicles, and the other is that they will go bankwupt if they are forced to clean up their mess and offer at least half-clean vehicles. Well, Europe just threw that trashy approach to progress in the dump. Electric vehicle sales in Europe have skyrocketed — because the EU required that automakers start selling EVs. Rather than get those EVs to market and not find any buyers, though, people are scooping them up. It turns out that automakers just had to try. Who would’ve thought? (Side note: I wrote “22 Ways To Delay The Electric Car Revolution” and updated it to “50 Ways To Slow The Electric Vehicle Revolution — A Complete Idiot’s Guide” in 2019.) Seriously, though, it’s two-thousand-freakin’-twenty-one. These delay tactics are beyond annoying. They are beyond scoffing and complaining.

Plus, Tesla showed years ago that people want good EVs! And Tesla showed more recently that electric vehicles can be mass produced profitably and will find happy buyers.

I can’t see myself seeing anything that GM, Toyota, or FCA put out in a half-decent light at this point. They have tried too hard to slow progress. They have worked too hard to dirty our air. They have looked at our nice, livable climate on planet Earth and forsaken it. Sure, perhaps they have some cool EV people and climate hawks working on their electrification teams. Good, and I thank them for their hard work. But the overall company leaderships’ approach to this situation is beyond forgiveness. If they want to be last in line to transition, they can fall off the conveyor belt and find their place on Wikipedia’s pages covering the history of the automobile industry. It’s 2021 and their decisions at this point are abhorrent.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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