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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

General Motors Drags its Feet

Air Date: Week of April 8, 1994

Commentator Janet Reynolds looks at General Motors' lackluster promotion of its electric car. She says GM seems determined to make their electric model a commercial failure to protect its other financial interests. As a result, Reynolds says, the company continues to drag its feet even in the face of growing interest and demand for electric cars from the American public.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Electric cars aren't necessary environmentally benign. If their electricity comes from nonrenewable sources, there's still some pollution from smokestacks or the problem of nuclear waste. And any car encourages sprawl development. But for some who've driven one, including Living on Earth commentator Janet Reynolds, the electric car is the way to go.

REYNOLDS: Have you ever driven an electric car? I have, and it was an experience that gave new meaning to the phrase "joy ride." The car had pep. Charging it was as simple as plugging in my hair dryer. And bonuses of bonuses, it was absolutely, totally silent.

It wasn't too tough, then, as I tooled down the road, to imagine the pleasure of a highway filled with these soundless and pollution-free roadsters. Unfortunately, at this point, waiting for America's Big 3 to manufacture affordable electric cars is a little like waiting for Godot. A look at General Motors' recent announcement to test its mass market electric car, the Impact, shows why. This spring, America's number one auto maker is loaning 50 electric cars to 1,000 households around America for 2 weeks. Now you'd think, given America's increased interest in cleaner air, that GM would be trumpeting the arrival of this car louder than Gabriel at those pearly gates. After all, GM is beating out the competition, and isn't that the name of the game?

Apparently not, when it comes to creating an electric car. Because unbelievably, GM is anticipating, indeed hoping, that the car will fail during this, its first public test run, according to the New York Times. Naturally, GM has explanations for its stance. The car is too costly, and it will only go about 100 miles before it needs recharging. There's just one problem with GM's sudden concern with Joe and Jane Consumer: it's not based on reality.

Indeed, the company's own experience proves that. When GM asked for volunteers to test the Impact in Los Angeles last year, the company expected 4,000 responses but got 9,300. And in New York, where GM expected fewer than 5,000 interested people, 14,000 volunteered. Add to these enthusiastic responses the fact that other small companies already sell more expensive electric cars as fast as they can make them, and GM's downplaying the Impact's arrival becomes more than a little curious. Until you look at the company's real agenda.

With billions invested in gas guzzling, air polluting car engines, GM hopes to make lawmakers and regulators postpone, or even scrap, some state deadlines requiring 2% of the new cars to be zero-emission. No wonder the company is dropping its slogan "the heartbeat of America." It clearly doesn't have its finger on America's pulse.

CURWOOD: Commentator Janet Reynolds comes to us from Connecticut Public Radio.

 

 

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