Thursday, April 12, 2007

GM - Brown Suits, Green Image

The International Auto Show has been making the rounds of North America, with my home town of Vancouver being the latest stop on the tour.

Front and centre in this year's show is an increasingly aggressive campaign of green posturing by the major car manufacturers as they line up their latest high tech, fuel efficient models for the market and press. Highest profile among them is the Chevrolet Volt, GM's new "plug-in hybrid" concept car.

Doesn't it look pretty!

And as various bloggers and journalists are chaperoned through the Detroit autoshow (so as to better tow the GM line), give them credit for making a pass at something resembling balanced reporting. They do raise concerns with the Volt - about the potential hazards in disposing of electric batteries, of relying on coal powered electricity to charge battery powered vehicles, and of the potential recycling issues with the Volt's interior materials - all while being dazzled by the glitz of surface design.

That was part of the plan, we learned -- "green vehicles" aren't always particularly sexy, so Chevy wanted to bring some of the emotional attachment of the Corvette and Camaro to a greener vehicle.

"Green companies" aren't always sexy either, and what the rest of us have learned is how easy it is to get a environmental writer to lose sight of the ball.

Though valid, the criticisms above utterly miss the point. Namely, that while GM is flogging their green credentials, they are firmly entrenched as one North America's fiercest opponents of global warming action, thanks to their persistent lawsuits against states trying to pass tougher vehicle emissions standards.

GM is the lead plaintiff among a coalition of auto manufacturers in the highly publicized lawsuit against California over their landmark automobile emissions law. They were also the lead witness in a similar suit launched by automakers in the state of Vermont this past Tuesday, while yet another GM backed lawsuit is underway in Rhode Island. All in, nine states are trying to move forward with meaningful action to reduce automobile emissions under tremendous opposition from GM and the auto industry as a whole.

While green writers are being hypnotized by a public relations slight of hand, GM continues a full out legal campaign against some of the most progressive actions on climate change we have.

The bright spot is that thanks to last week's precedent at the US Supreme Court that recognized co2 as a pollutant, GM's efforts stand and excellent chance of failing. But regardless, automakers can make no claim to green credentials so long as they continue to use the courts to derail laws and policies that will lead to a healthier planet - no matter how many green poster cars they roll out for the cameras.

GM can have their Volt, so long as they quit interfering with real climate change solutions.


Kyle G. Olsen said...

GM has said it will produce the VOLT only if the battery technology they wish to use is reduced in cost by 50% by the time to make the go no go choice.

This car is just a smoke screen to deflect negative opinions of GM's other environmental actions. Fortunately you haven't forgotten their sins either.

Give them props when it arrives in show rooms, until then, it is all just for show.

ScruffyDan said...

ethanol cars: not so green anymore

there’s a dirty secret about clean cars. The policies for flexible-fuel vehicles—those that can run on mixtures of gasoline and more than 10 percent ethanol—are written in such a way that they result in a number of unintended consequences. One result is that automakers gain some leeway in meeting fuel-economy standards if they produce flexible-fuel cars and trucks. So Detroit’s automakers have been pumping out hundreds of thousands of the vehicles, even though most consumers have no access to alternative fuels because they’re available at only a fraction of U.S. gas stations.

Here’s why that’s an issue. Automakers need to meet certain government standards for the fuel economy of their fleets. For flex-fuel cars, fuel economy is calculated based on the assumption that their owners use 50 percent gasoline and 50 percent ethanol. But the reality is that just 1 percent of the nation’s flexible-fuel vehicles actually use what’s known as E85—85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. The remaining 99 percent are using good old-fashioned gasoline.

More greenhouse gases
The result is anything but green. The more flex-fuel cars and trucks that are produced, the more gasoline is consumed—dramatically increasing greenhouse gas emissions and deepening the country’s dependence on petroleum. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that without the policy in place, the U.S. would have burned 4 billion fewer gallons of gasoline since 1998. “Automakers have an [economic] incentive to sell cars less efficient than the law requires,” says Don MacKenzie, a vehicles engineer for the Union’s clean vehicles program.

The Car Geek said...

GM maker of gm brake dust shield, had recently announced that they would be lowering the C02 emissions by at least 40% in the coming years. This means that they would produce cars which are more eco-friendly. Its good to know that automakers is doing a move to help preventing the climate problems.

Janis Mara said...

I see your point, and I think it's good to keep a focus on those lawsuits against stricter fuel standards. You know, Los Angeles is not exactly perfect, but since stricter fuel standards became law in California, the city has changed hugely for the better. That said, I also think the auto companies' efforts toward more fuel-efficient vehicles does deserve some attention.

Isn't it a sign of progress, given how vigorously the companies opposed such ideas in the past? Or maybe I'm not getting it here?

Janis Mara

Odiyya said...

Good comment J.M. Its certainly not a bad thing that auto companies are making some investment in alternate fuels and lower emissions vehicles. The real question is intent. What is the motivation behind this, when they may very well be investing even more money in fighting climate change legislation than they are on new technology.

More to the point for me is, even if their motivation is golden, its going to be decades before we see viable electrics on the road in significant numbers, so as a global warming solution its really not getting the job done, whereas we have the power here and now to be putting higher efficiency cars on the road.

Janis Mara said...

Thanks, I appreciate the clarification, and agree with your point!