General Motors CEO Mary Barra threw President Trump under the electric car Monday, announcing in a letter to environmental groups that GM will no longer support the Trump administration's battle to strip California of its own clean-air standards and signaling the automaker is ready to work with President-elect Joe Biden on climate policy.
"President-elect Biden recently said, 'I believe that we can own the 21st century car market again by moving to electric vehicles.' We at General Motors couldn't agree more," Barra wrote. "We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the president-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions." GM announced last week that it's testing a new battery chemistry that should bring its electric vehicles to the same price range as gas-powered ones within five years.
Barra urged Toyota, Fiat-Chrysler, and the 10 smaller automakers that had sided with Trump to flip sides, too, and Toyota said it is "assessing the situation" and mostly wants uniform fuel standards in all 50 states.
"GM's maneuvering was a public humiliation to Mr. Trump," The New York Times reports. "Barra gave no warning to the administration, but she did speak by telephone on Monday with Mary Nichols, California's top climate regulator and an architect of the Obama-era fuel economy rules." Two people familiar with Barra's thinking told the Times her actions were clearly prompted by the outcome of the presidential race, but "even so, the way she did it took analysts aback."
Trump reversed President Barack Obama's national fuel standards upon taking office, lowering the target to 40 miles per gallon by 2025 from 54.5 mpg. California then quietly reached a deal with Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Volvo to get to 51 mpg by 2026, enraging Trump, who then moved in September 2019 to revoke California's unique ability to set its own tailpipe emission standards. GM and its allied automakers sided with Trump when environmental groups sued to block that move. The 51 mpg compromise "is now seen as the likely model for a new, Biden-era fuel economy rule," the Times reports.
"This huge pivot, so closely following an election result, particularly from a firm like General Motors, is a big, big deal," said University of Michigan public policy professor Barry Rabe. "This is the first big industrial step toward the next president. Are other industries going to have epiphanies and pivot?"