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General Motors blames slow carbon intensity progress on demand for combustion vehicles

GM's absolute Scope 3 emissions are down from the 2018 baseline but have been creeping up since 2021.
Melodie Michel
General Motors blames slow carbon intensity progress on demand for combustion vehicles
Photo by Samantha Fortney on Unsplash

General Motors says customer demand for conventional vehicles is the main reason why it has made no progress so far in reducing the carbon intensity of its vehicles from the 2018 baseline of 294 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

In its 2023 sustainability report released this week, the car manufacturer disclosed a 13.6% decrease in absolute Scope 3 emissions from use of sold products since 2018, from 279 to 241 million tonnes of CO2e. However, this reduction is primarily due to a drop in the number of vehicles sold, from 8.38 million in 2018 to 6.2 million in 2023. 

In fact, emissions from purchased goods and services and use of sold products have been going up since 2021 as sales started to recover from a five-year decline.

Source: General Motors 2023 sustainability supplement

Admitting it has so far achieved “0%” of its 51% carbon intensity reduction goal, GM noted that progress has been impacted by “slower reduction in [internal combustion engine] volumes, based on customer demand”. 

“While we have observed strong customer demand for our internal combustion engine (ICE) offerings in 2023, we are committed to reducing emissions from our ICE products and are prioritising the expansion of our electric vehicle (EV) portfolio by bringing new products and increasing production capacity,” it added.

Read also: Volkswagen sees carbon footprint jump despite vehicle intensity gains

General Motors’ EV sales grow globally but stall in the US

The proportion of GM’s global sales made up by electric vehicles (EV) has grown steadily in recent years, from 7.8% in 2021 and 9.3% in 2022 to 10.3% in 2023 – but progress may be too slow for the company to meet its targets.

In 2021, the carmaker announced a plan for 40% of light vehicles sold in the US to be battery-electric by 2025 as part of an aspiration to “transition to 100% zero tailpipe emissions for new light-duty vehicles by 2035”. In 2023, it sold 2.6 million vehicles in the US – just 75,883 of which (2.9%) were electric.

Globally, the US represented about 10% of the 14 million new electric cars sold in 2023, far behind China (60%) and Europe (25%).

GM Scope 1 and 2 emissions progress

The company, which posted revenue of US$171.8 billion in 2023 (up from US$156.7 billion the previous year), has managed to reduce operational (Scope 1 and 2) emissions by 37%  from its 2018 baseline. It aims to achieve a 72% reduction by 2035, mainly by adopting 100% renewable electricity across global manufacturing sites. 

Scope 1 and 2, however, only represent less than 1% of General Motors’ carbon footprint.

Source: General Motors 2023 sustainability report