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GM finally bends the knee to California’s authority to set vehicle pollution rules

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General Motors isn’t done wiping the egg off its face from its misguided decision to back then-President Donald Trump’s failed effort to take away California’s ability to set fuel efficiency standards. In a letter sent to the state’s governor today, the automaker said it “recognizes California’s authority to set vehicle emissions standards” under the Clean Air Act and offers itself up an EV supplier for the state.

This represents a reversal of GM’s position three years ago, when it joined Fiat Chrysler and Toyota in supporting the Trump administration’s escalating battle with the state over vehicle emission rules.

Under the Clean Air Act, California has historically been allowed to set its own emissions standards, which are tougher than federal guidelines and typically set the bar for the entire auto industry in the US. California is the largest auto market in the US and the 10th largest in the world.

After Trump declared his intention to roll back the Obama-era fuel economy standards, California stated that it would go its own course and keep enforcing the earlier, stricter standards. Trump sued the state, prompting the auto industry to take sides in the legal battle.

Nearly two dozen states sued the Trump administration in response and other major car companies balked at the administration’s attempt to roll back the fuel efficiency mandate. While GM and a few others supported Trump, Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, and BMW all sided with California.

But after Trump’s defeat, the effort was essentially moot. President Joe Biden announced his own plan to hasten a transition to electric vehicles in an effort to combat climate change — and GM scrambled to get on board. Two weeks after Trump’s loss, GM renounced its support for the lawsuit and called on other automakers to join it.

Now, the company is furthering its efforts to get on California’s good side, and it seems to be working. The state has agreed to add GM to its list of auto manufacturers to consider for fleet vehicle purchases. This is important especially as GM releases new electric work vehicles, such as the BrightDrop delivery vans and the Chevy Silverado EV pickup truck.

“GM is joining California in our fight for clean air and emission reduction as part of the company’s pursuit of a zero-emissions future,” Newsom said in a statement. “This agreement will help accelerate California’s nation-leading commitment to tackling the climate crisis. We welcome GM in our clean vehicle revolution.”

GM has said it will stop selling gas-powered vehicles by 2040 and has committed to spend $35 billion on electric and autonomous vehicles by 2025. California has said it wants to ban the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035. To date, 14 other states have adopted its progressive zero-emission vehicle program for passenger vehicles, which was launched in the early 1990s and has spurred automakers into developing hybrid and fully electric cars.

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