GM’s siding with Trump administration reveals a lack of commitment to clean, efficient vehicles

(ACEEE blog, 6 Nov 2019) Despite its constant refrain about an “all-electric future,” General Motors’ recent siding with the Trump administration reveals a broader unwillingness to commit to steady improvements in fuel economy.

GM joined Fiat Chrysler and Toyota last week in signing onto the Trump administration’s efforts to slam the brakes on vehicle fuel economy and emissions improvements. Earlier, GM fended off intense pressure to follow the example of four automakers—Ford, Honda, VW, and BMW—that forged an agreement with California to ensure continuing reductions in vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions and to protect states’ right to adopt strong standards.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising. GM was among the worst companies in terms of fuel economy gains in 2012 through 2017. Its fleet-wide fuel economy improved by only 5.5% during that time, falling far short of the improvements made by leaders such as Honda (11.8%). In addition, it announced plans last year to kill most of its car production in favor of SUVs and crossovers.

Pickups tell the story

Full-size pickups, a key market segment, show both progress and stagnation, from Ford’s deployment of efficient EcoBoost engines in the F-150 to Toyota’s indolence with the Tundra – essentially unchanged since 2007. GM could have made strong fuel economy improvements all along. Instead, the automaker appears to have prioritized changing other attributes of its vehicles, as illustrated by its disappointing redesign of full-size pickups for 2019.

When GM first announced the redesigned pickups, we gave it kudos for introducing an all-new, highly advanced four-cylinder turbocharged engine – the first in a modern full-size pickup. We estimated that trucks with this engine would achieve fuel economy gains of 18.5% over the V6 truck they replaced. That would equal a certification fuel economy of nearly 30 miles per gallon (MPG). When the fuel economy numbers came in, however, the truck achieved only 27.3 MPG, and the two V8 powertrains delivered disappointing improvements as well.

Why did these trucks fail to improve fuel economy as much as the technology is capable of? First, the new four-cylinder truck reduces 0-60 acceleration time by nearly one second due to a 9% increase in peak horsepower and 14% increase in torque, along with a reduction in weight. Similarly, while GM claimed a 7% improvement in aerodynamic efficiency, it squandered about half of the potential fuel economy gain by delivering an even bigger truck.

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ACEEE blog, 6 Nov 2019: GM’s siding with Trump administration reveals a lack of commitment to clean, efficient vehicles