GM promises to leave no one behind as it moves to an all-electric future

General Motors headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit on Jan. 11, 2021, showing the updated logo representing the company's electric future. (Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press/TNS)
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Jamie L. LaReau Detroit Free Press (TNS)

General Motors says it wants to make sure all of its customers and its employees are included in its transition to an all-electric car company.

On Tuesday, GM CEO Mary Barra made several promises to achieve that goal, including announcing the creation of a $25 million Climate Equity Fund.

By equity, that means no one is left behind as GM transforms the company. The idea is that all people have access to electrification regardless of socioeconomic status, race or other situations. It means that electrification will benefit society, said Jessica James, a GM spokeswoman.

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“Climate change does not impact every community equally,” Barra said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “As we move to an all-electric, zero-emissions future, it is on us to lead positive change and implement inclusive solutions that bring everyone along, especially our employees and communities.”

The new fund will be used to support programs that help people and communities that are more likely to disproportionately experience the effects of climate change.

“We know 80% of EV owners today charge at home,” said Gerald Johnson, GM’s executive vice president. But, Johnson said, GM also realizes that there are many people who don’t have a residence where they can charge a vehicle.

Likewise, Johnson said that GM supports an EV tax credit incentive that would include used electric cars, “to broaden the access” to EVs for more consumers.

“We have an imperative to leave the world a better place than we found it,” Johnson said.

Barra said GM wants consumers to be able to choose an electric vehicle as their only vehicle. Therefore, those consumers must have confidence that if they go over the vehicle’s range, which for GM is typically 300 miles, there’s a charging infrastructure to support them. Also, there have to be affordable options to buy EVs.

“When we check all those boxes, our research shows that people say they are very interested in an electric vehicle,” Barra said.

The philanthropic fund complements GM’s $35 billion investment in research and development of EVs and self-driving cars by 2025.

Barra said GM is focused on bringing its current workforce along, while helping to build a diverse pipeline of talent, as GM gets closer to a zero-emissions future. GM will be adding jobs, but James said it is not sharing how many new jobs will be created.

Barra said GM strives to be the “most inclusive company” in the world. That means creating an environment where everyone feels valued, comfortable to be themselves and emboldened to do their best work. It also means including them in a transition to EVs, Barra said.

“Whether they’re an engineer or a teammate working on the assembly line in one of our plants, they need to know they are a part of our future,” Barra said. “This won’t happen overnight – it will happen over time and that time will allow us to retrain employees. Our goal is, as we make this transition, we bring everyone along.”

GM recently established GM Automotive Manufacturing Electrical College, which allows people to be retrained to work on EVs. As for the workforce of the future, Barra said, people need to have a technology basis. They don’t necessarily have to “be able to code,” but they should know enough about software and technology to be flexible to move to a variety of jobs, she said.

GM has said it aspires for all of its light-duty vehicles to be zero emissions by 2035.

Barra said GM’s focus on “equitable climate action” centers on four areas:

—The future of work: GM will prioritize its current salaried and UAW-represented workforce in its shift to EVs. GM publicly reiterated its support for the UAW to organize employees at the Ohio and Tennessee Ultium Cells LLC battery cell manufacturing plants. In May, the UAW told the Free Press that it is prepared to battle GM at the new battery cell factories GM is building in Ohioand in Tennessee if the automaker won’t allow a simplified process, called a card check, to organize workers there. But days after the Free Press article, GM and its battery cell partner, LG Energy Solution, publicly expressed support for unions. They also acknowledged workers’ rights to unionize the joint venture called Ultium Cells LLC battery plants. When asked if GM would support a card check process at the battery cell plants, Johnson said, “We are supportive of the UAW. We are partners with the UAW and have been for decades. It is ultimately the decision of the employee group there, but we fully expect we’ll work together with the UAW moving forward at these plants as we do in our propulsion plants across the U.S.”

—EV access: GM has said it will bring 30 new EVs to market by mid-decade that offer customers a wide selection across a range of price points. The redesigned 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV starts at $31,000 and the 2022 GMC Hummer pickup, due out later this year, will start at $79,995. GM also announced partnerships that will use its Hydrotec fuel cells for rail and aircraft applications, which could deliver improvement in emissions beyond cars.

—Infrastructure equity: GM is committed to helping bring widespread charging stations and other solutions to address any charging concerns that can hinder EV ownership.

—Climate equity: GM will help fund organizations that are helping to find solutions to changes that will result due to climate change. GM and these groups will work at the community level looking at the future of work, EV access, EV infrastructure and other issues that arise from climate change.

GM is accepting proposals from outside groups for funding from its new Climate Equity Fund. Potential grantees should submit proposals aligned to GM’s four climate equity social outcomes listed above.

The grant proposals will not go to other EV companies, Johnson said, “This is targeted for grassroot organizations in communities — targeting towards awareness, understanding and engagement in climate change and an EV future.”

Barra said GM strives to make mobility safer, more accessible and more environmentally friendly and it will work with community-based stakeholders to identify their needs and find solutions.

GM will advocate for inclusive and equitable climate change, renewable energy and transportation-related policies at the federal, state and local levels to help ensure a sustainable mobility future for all, she said. It will help fund organizations that provide equitable access to EVs.

“It means that 20 years from now, as we look back at our company and our spending $35 billion to transform the company, we can be proud in how we did it,” James said. “And we’ll know that we didn’t leave anyone behind.”

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