GM’s U-Turn: From Joining Trump’s Attack on Clean Air to Backing California’s Tough Auto Emissions Standards

SAN FRANCISCO – General Motors, once a strong supporter of the Trump administration’s lawsuit to block California’s ambitious clean-car standards, reversed course Monday, announcing it will back the state’s efforts to improve fuel economy and cut tailpipe emissions to address the climate crisis.

With the abrupt U-turn, GM got on board with the incoming Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to fight climate change by making investment in electric vehicles a top priority. GM joins Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and other automakers in support of the state’s right to set its own standards, leaving Toyota and Fiat Chrysler as holdouts backing the administration’s legal efforts to block the California standards.

GM CEO Mary Barra urged other car companies to support “the ambitious electrification goals of the president-elect [and] California.” But EWG President Ken Cook said GM shouldn’t get off so easily.

“Praising GM for abandoning Trump’s lawsuit after his defeat and now supporting California would be like praising a student for turning in a term paper two years late,” said Cook, a resident of California. “Car buyers who care about clean air and a livable planet should remember GM’s scramble to abandon Trump’s sinking ship.”

Earlier this year, Cook wrote an open letter to Barra and the other CEOs backing the Trump administration, saying: “Your support of the rollback in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is a shameless betrayal of the planet and the health of your customers.” On Monday, he posted a tongue-in-cheek tweet, suggesting that GM had unveiled a diesel-powered weather vane that "embodies decades of GM experience with abandoning our environmental principles to shifting political winds."

Soon after President Trump was sworn into office, in 2017, auto industry lobbyists pushed for a rollback of Obama-era federal fuel economy standards. In 2019, GM, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler joined Trump’s legal efforts to overturn the California standards, which largely follow the federal rules set by the Obama administration in 2011.

The Environmental Protection Agency projected that the Obama standards would prevent up to 2,000 premature deaths and 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children each year, but the Trump rollbacks – which took effect in March – would mean more deaths and illness.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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