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My Shifting Perceptions of GM

Published Mar 26th 2008, 6:51pm by Patty Streeter in Featured Articles

Shh My first car ever was a Chevy Geo Prizm. I still remember it fondly, as any “first” tends to be.

But then I watched the DVD “Who Killed The Electric Car?” This documentary chronicles the saga of the first GM electric car, the EV1. Its debut lease program was greeted with adoration and the EV1 quickly built a loyal fan base that included celebrities, environmental activists, and regular Janes and Joes lucky enough to lay a hand on these pure electric cars. They were none too happy when GM decided to stop renewing the leases, and mounted a resistance to prevent GM from taking back the cars, and later, crushing all that were returned. That made me mad.

When I first started writing for AskPatty.com, the images of the DVD were hard to erase. I was psyched to be writing about cleaner cars and better fuels, and do my own little part for the environment. But at the back of my mind, there was a doubt about cars, in general, that I could not erase. Cars definitely cause me a lot of conflicts. A necessary evil, as my first blog ruminated.

Then one day as an AskPatty blogger, I was invited to a participate in the GM "Electric Drive University," a press event to test drive the Project Driveway Equinox, a hydrogen fuel-cell car that was being tested, once again, with lucky consumers in Los Angeles and New York area. I was a skeptic when I got there, wary of the intention of publicity events but was willing to see what this new development was about. The event was a turning point for me. There, I learned about GM’s energy diversity approach, met staff who seemed genuinely enthusiastic and excited about alternative, cleaner car technology. Of course, GM is great at hosting press events – we were treated like VIPs with excellent door-to-door service, great accommodations, and delicious food. The “University” was very educational. In fact, when I got home, my friends told me that I had been brainwashed. I admit I did get quite influenced by the well-trained GM folks who said all the right things about the Chevy Volt, about their path to cleaner cars, but hey, companies can reform. We should give such companies a chance and help them move forward on socially responsible path.

Later, I talked to my professor at the Presidio School of Management – Hunter Lovins, one of the pillars of sustainability, and author of Natural Capitalism -- the bible of the sustainability movement. Even she had a fairly positive opinion of GM, so I started feeling a bit more positive about them.

That is – until last week. I read a shocking article about GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz comment that global warming is a “total crock of shit”. I couldn't believe my eyes. That’s a bit frank, isn’t it? Especially when your company is publicly committed about energy diversity and has spent tremendous sums promoting its green image, marketing its fuel-cell future car. That comment reignited my nagging doubt once more.

Then last week, I chanced upon a Business Week article about companies being half-heartedly green. In “Green—Up to a Point,” the author laid out the case of how some companies in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), which has publicly endorsed emission cuts, are also “simultaneously supporting efforts and organizations that oppose mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases or promote policies that would make the USCAP reductions nearly impossible to meet.” For example, GM and Chrysler also support the Heartland Institute, which disputes man’s role in global warming. This makes me mad.

Adding fire to the fuel (to my own feelings about GM), apparently GM and Toyota are now expressing “doubts about the viability of hydrogen fuel cells for mass-market production in the near term and suggested their companies are now betting that electric cars will prove to be a better way to reduce fuel consumption and cut tailpipe emissions on a large scale,” according to Wall Street Journal. So much for a 2010 target date!

All these developments make me really sad, and ever more cynical about big American automakers It is too bad GM has squandered my hard-earned trust. They have been doing so well, in my opinion, and in many environmentalist's opinions… but are they really just playing both sides? When will those cleaner cars materialize? I will believe them again when I see a real car in the market with alternative fuel engines. In the mean time, I will keep looking for a car company I can conscientiously devote my loyalty to.

Extrazoom Marn-Yee Lee
Contributing Editor
AskPatty.com

Marn-Yee Lee is pursuing an MBA in Sustainability at the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. After spending a decade in I.T. and on Wall Street, she is now pursuing her passion for the environment. She sees business as a partner for creating innovative solutions to pressing environmental issues. In her spare time, she writes a blog to inspire others to consider the impact of their daily lives on the environment at busythinking.blogspot.com.

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