Why GM’s clean cars announcement is a really big deal

Fred Krupp

I was pleased to lend my support to GM’s dramatic announcement that it is working to eliminate tailpipe emissions from all of its new light-duty vehicles by 2035, and to be carbon neutral in its global products and operations by 2040. EDF has been working with GM to develop a shared vision for an all-electric future, and we’re proud to have played a part in this breakthrough moment.

Why is this a big deal? When a leading U.S. carmaker takes such a step, it sends a powerful signal to the industry that being on the road to zero emissions is an essential element of every automaker’s business plan. There can be no doubt: The future of transportation, starting now, is electric.

Why zero-emissions vehicles matter

Transportation and power generation are America’s two biggest sources of climate pollution. Cleaning them up will help stabilize the climate, boost the economy, create jobs, save money for consumers and clean up air pollution — especially in communities of color that have been unfairly burdened by pollution for far too long.

Here are just some of the benefits we’ll enjoy:

  • Cost savings for families. In 2027, just six years from now, the buyer of a new battery-electric vehicle will save more than $5,300 over the life of the car compared to a gasoline-powered car — including lower upfront costs, avoided fuel costs and lower maintenance costs.
  • Jobs and investment. The electric-vehicle industry employed nearly 130,000 people across the U.S. in 2019, but that’s just the beginning. This year there will be 60 different models of electric cars available to U.S. consumers — including SUVs, pick-ups and models under $30,000 before rebates. But automakers will spend more than $257 billion through 2030 developing new electric models, and eight manufacturers have announced plans to spend more than $22 billion to open new or renovated plants in the U.S. These plants will directly employ almost 24,000 workers and drive more job creation by suppliers and local businesses. GM recently announced it would invest $2.2 billion — its largest manufacturing investment to date — to repurpose a Detroit factory as its “flagship assembly plant in [its] journey to an all-electric future.” The investment is projected to create 2,200 jobs.
  • Climate stability. By 2040, according to EDF analysis, making new zero-emission vehicles a reality industrywide will cut the U.S.’s climate pollution by 600 million metric tons per year — growing to 875 million metric tons each year by 2050. That’s a cumulative reduction of more than 11.5 billion tons through 2050, nearly as much as the combined climate emissions from China and India last year.
  • Cleaner air. Huge reductions in conventional air pollution will result as well. By 2040, smog-forming nitrogen oxide will be reduced by 284,000 tons each year, increasing to more than 430,000 tons annually in 2050. The health benefits of this will be remarkable, with huge reductions in smog and particulate pollution — both of which cause respiratory diseases that unfairly burden people of color. These reductions will prevent as many as 5,000 premature deaths each year by 2040 — a total of 98,000 lives saved through 2050.

Overall by 2050, zero-emissions vehicles will deliver more than $100 billion in net societal benefits each year (economic and pollution benefits) and provide $1.6 trillion in cumulative net benefits to Americans by 2050 — almost 10% of the U.S. gross domestic product.

A new day to move our nation forward

That’s what happens when one of America’s most important sectors gets serious about going 100% clean. And that’s why GM’s announcement is so important. EDF and GM have had serious disagreements. Last year, EDF supported and GM opposed California's clean car standards (though GM later reversed course and withdrew from the litigation).

But this is a new day in America — one where serious collaboration to achieve transportation electrification, science-based climate progress and equitably shared economic opportunity can move our nation forward.