GM finally agrees California can set vehicle emissions rules as it preps to scale EVs

In what appears to be a politically and economically savvy move by General Motors, the automaker said Sunday it recognized California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own vehicle emissions standards. GM previously backed the Trump administration’s efforts to bar the state from enforcing its own rules for new vehicles, a position it reversed soon after President Joe Biden was elected.

GM’s recognition of California’s much stricter carbon emissions standards, which other states can adopt, means the state will consider the company for fleet vehicle purchases. Other companies on the list include BMW, Ford, Honda, Tesla, Volkswagen and Volvo.

California is the most populous state in the nation, contributing 14.8% of the country’s gross domestic product; to be blacklisted from the state because of a cantankerous desire to continue producing cars with higher emissions would be economic suicide. TechCrunch reached out to GM to learn why the company decided to send the letter now and how it fit in with its broader strategy, but GM did not immediately respond.

Omar Vargas, VP and head of global public policy for GM, swore fealty to California’s emissions sovereignty in a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom shared with The Detroit News on Sunday, just days after the company’s commercial electric vehicle unit, BrightDrop, shared considerable growth plans over the next few years. At CES, the company announced Walmart as its newest customer with a reservation of 5,000 e-delivery vans. In addition, existing customer FedEx upped its order from 500 EVs to 2,000, many of which will hit the streets of Los Angeles first.

The OEM also committed on Sunday to speeding out its rollout of zero-emission vehicles in a letter to Liane Randolph, chair of the California Air Resources Board. Last week, GM added two more electric SUV models under its Chevrolet brand to be produced by 2023, which would join the two upcoming versions of the Silverado EV pickup. The company has started to deliver the GMC Hummer EV pickup truck and is also introducing the Hummer EV SUV in 2023. An electric GMC Sierra is coming to market, likely in 2023 as well.

The letter to Randolph, signed by GM’s vice president of global regulatory affairs and transportation technology policy, David Strickland, also committed to ensuring affordability of its EVs for low-income communities. This would involve improving access to charging infrastructure by providing pre-paid charging cards and creating partnerships to build infrastructure, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

“GM is joining California in our fight for clean air & emission reduction as part of … their pursuit of a zero-emissions future,” tweeted Governor Newsom’s office on Sunday. “This agreement will help accelerate California’s nation-leading work to tackling the climate crisis. Welcome GM to our clean vehicle revolution!”

GM has promised to be carbon-neutral by 2040 in its global products and operations, with zero tailpipe emissions from new vehicles by 2035.