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GM commits to be carbon-neutral by 2040

General Motors is the latest automaker to make a carbon neutral commitment.

General Motor's CEO Mary Barra

The largest U.S. automaker, General Motors, has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2040, an ambitious plan with a deadline a decade sooner than many global automakers. 

While GM previously had aimed to become a "zero-emissions automaker" by 2050, the news unveiled Thursday both ramps up and codifies the company's plans. The commitment includes a strategy to "eliminate tailpipe emissions" from light-duty new vehicles by 2035.

The amped-up ambition shows how global automakers are increasingly setting more aggressive paths to transition away from fossil fuels, the resource that has been the key to powering their industry for a century. Most are embracing batteries as the next-generation fuel resource and prioritizing electrification as the key technology that will power vehicles of the future. 

A handful of automakers have made carbon-neutrality pledges, but GM's is one of the most ambitious. Last summer, automaker Ford pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. European automakers including Daimler have made similar commitments — in 2019, the German company pledged to make its cars carbon-neutral by 2039. Volkswagen also has said it aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

GM Chief Sustainability Officer Dane Parker, who spoke on this topic at VERGE 20 in October, said on a media call Thursday morning that the carbon-neutral commitment includes Scope 3 emissions. For GM that includes emissions from the tailpipes of its vehicles, which account for 75 percent of the company's carbon footprint.

GM Factory

GM’s Factory Zero program is building a new generation of EVs in a Detroit factory that will run on zero-emission power.

General Motors

Transitioning GM's vehicles to electric is the key goal to achieving this. Parker confirmed on the call that GM aims to stop making new gas-powered light-duty vehicles by 2035. By 2025, 40 percent of GM's cars will be zero-emission vehicles, the company said. 

GM said it worked with the Environmental Defense Fund to develop the EV commitment. GM announced last year that it plans to invest a massive $27 billion into electrifying its product lines. 

GM's other emissions come from powering its operations, and the emissions of its suppliers. GM plans to source 100 percent of its energy in the U.S. from renewables by 2030, and globally by 2035. That accelerates the company's previous clean energy goal by five years. Any remaining carbon emissions will be offset, according to the company. 

Several months ago, the decarbonization commitments from GM might have seemed unexpected. The automaker had sided with the Trump administration to block California from setting more stringent clean car standards than the federal government.

However, in November — following the election of U.S. President Joe Biden — GM abruptly reversed that decision and stopped backing the Trump administration's efforts to undercut stricter fuel efficiency. 

Shortly after that decision, and earlier this month, GM used the virtual stage of the Consumer Electronics Show, to showcase its electric vehicle technology and to unveil a new division focused on electric delivery and an electric delivery van. FedEx said it would be GM's first customer for the division, BrightDrop.

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