GM misses some sustainability goals, rewrites targets

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. says it will create new, sustainable product commitments after achieving mixed results on five goals set year ago related to reducing carbon-dioxide tailpipe emissions and rolling out more electrified vehicles and fuel-efficient cars.

The automaker, in its 2016 Sustainability Report released in June, said while it met a goal to double the number of vehicles with 40 miles per gallon or more highway fuel economy by this year, it expects to fall well short of having a half-million electrified vehicles on the road in 2017. The company blames low gas prices, poor consumer acceptance and more competition for missing the mark.

“We are now focused on establishing a new set of product commitments that tie performance more closely to our internal capabilities rather than market forces beyond our control,” GM said in the report.

The automaker declined comment on those changes and when they would roll out.

In fall 2012, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra announced a target of 500,000 vehicles that would be powered in some way by electricity including plug-ins, pure electrics and hybrids. Barra then led GM’s global product development organization.

GM reported it had 243,133 electrified vehicles on U.S. roads last year, up more than 23 percent from 197,065 in 2015; 177,756 in 2014; and 150,623 in 2013.

The automaker late last year launched the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, a pure-electric with an estimated 238 miles of range that starts at less than $30,000 after factoring in up to a $7,500 federal income tax credit.

Also in 2012, GM pledged by 2017 it would double its U.S. vehicle offerings at 40 mpg or better highway fuel economy. The company had 11 vehicles that met the criteria last year, up from nine in 2015, six in 2014, five in 2013 and two in 2011.

GM also said it wanted by 2016 to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent in the U.S. from those produced in 2011 vehicles.

The company said low fuel prices weakened consumer interest in lower-emission vehicles and limited its progress.

GM says it continues to make year-over-year progress on cutting its Opel/Vauxhall carbon dioxide emissions in Europe and China, but the company is selling those operations to French automaker PSA Group.

Expecting that gasoline engines will dominate the market for some time, GM said it is slimming down engines, adding turbochargers, stop-start technology and other techniques to boost output and fuel efficiency

It plans to have 86 percent of its vehicle sales volume equipped with stop-start technology by 2021, up from 16 percent in 2016. It also says 51 percent of its vehicle volume will have downsized turbo engines by 2021, up from 22 percent in 2016. And GM predicts 77 percent of its vehicle volume will have advanced, higher speed automatic transmissions by 2021, up from just 1 percent in 2016.

The company said it remains committed to “a robust advanced technology program” and continues to invest millions of dollars a year into research and development. GM said about half of its more than 9,300 global propulsion systems engineers works on alternative or electrified systems.

The carmaker says it also is making strides in environmental manufacturing commitments. It exceeded a goal to reach 150 landfill free sites by 2020 four years early and has reached a 2020 goal to boost renewable energy by 125 megawatts. GM said it also hit that target four years ahead of time. It also achieved a 2020 goal to cut volatile organic compounds by 10 percent in 2013.

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