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General Motors Sets All-Electric Target For Vehicles By 2035

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One of the country's most important automakers says electric cars are the future and that the future will be here in just 15 years. General Motors, which manufactures millions of cars every year, has set a target date 2035 for ending production of gas and diesel vehicles. NPR's Camila Domonoske covers cars and energy.

Hey, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: How big a deal is this pledge from GM?

DOMONOSKE: Well, GM is really influential, and this is a signal that they are all-in on a future that's based on electric vehicles. And to put this in context, GM is planning on making a lot of electric vehicles. But in the U.S. right now, they only sell one. And all the company's profits are coming from gas and diesel vehicles, mostly big ones - SUVs and trucks. So it's a wholesale transformation of the business model that they're pledging to undergo.

KELLY: A transformation for GM - what about the rest of the auto industry? Might they follow suit?

DOMONOSKE: Well, this is definitely a sign of an industry-wide change that's coming in fast. Inside GM, it's giving everyone a target to shoot for. With suppliers, investors, dealers, it's showing this is the plan. I spoke to Stephanie Brinley, an automotive analyst with IHS Markit, and I asked her whether this puts pressure on rival companies to match this pledge and set a date of their own.

STEPHANIE BRINLEY: I think it does give another company permission to come along, but I don't think that it necessarily means that they have to.

DOMONOSKE: But I do think it's fair to say this sets a new bar for what an ambitious pledge about electrification looks like for an auto company.

KELLY: And what do we know, Camila, about why GM is being so ambitious? What's motivating this?

DOMONOSKE: Well, there is global pressure across the car industry to accelerate the switch to electric vehicles. You have governments who are all in on this. It's a major priority for the Biden administration. You have states like California pledging to ban the sale of gas-powered cars not in the distant future. You have countries in Europe. You have China setting ambitious targets - so lots of government policies. You also have major investors who are hyper-focused on this right now. And you only need to look at Tesla's stock to see some of the symptoms of just how focused they are, so there really is a wide range of pressure.

KELLY: So this is about profit margins. What about the climate crisis? How big a role is that playing?

DOMONOSKE: Oh, it's entirely about the climate crisis.

KELLY: OK.

DOMONOSKE: The idea of electrifying the fleet of passenger vehicles around the world is about the role that it plays in carbon emissions. Here in the United States, transportation is the single biggest source of carbon emissions, so tackling that is widely seen as absolutely essential to having any meaningful impact on reducing the worst effects of climate change. I'll note just switching to electric cars isn't enough. You need a clean electric grid too. You need buildings that use less energy. You need less driving overall, and it needs to be global. But that's why this is a top priority for governments and for investors.

KELLY: Yeah. And just spell out a few of the details in terms of what it will actually take to achieve this transformation, move the whole U.S. fleet to electric.

DOMONOSKE: I mean, it's huge. Batteries are super-important. You need more of them. They need to be cheaper. The grid needs to be improved. You need more chargers. Consumers need to have cars that they want and can afford. Old cars need to come off the road. I mean, the scale really is enormous, and that's not new. Knowing the scale of the transformation that's necessary to fight climate change has kind of been established. What's new is that there are people, leaders, car CEOs saying that this is possible and not vaguely in the future or in 2050 but 2035. The timelines have moved up so dramatically. I mean, that's tomorrow in automotive terms.

KELLY: Thank you, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Camila Domonoske. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.