GM Gets EPA Nod for Building the Most Greenwashed Large SUVs on the Market

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The Texas plant producing General Motors’ body-on-frame SUVs is clean and green, even if the vehicles it builds are anything but Prius-like.

In August, the 43 turbines of Southern Power’s 148 MW Cactus Flats Wind Facility became operational in Concho County, Texas. GM, along with General Mills (the tastier GM) both have contracts to purchase power from the facility — in GM’s case, some 50 MW of it per year. That means it can now claim its Arlington, Texas assembly plant is 100 percent powered by renewable energy. The Environmental Protection Agency just placed GM at No. 76 on its list of the country’s largest green power users.

It’s amazing the kind of tree-hugging press one can get for a factory that essentially builds dinosaurs.

While it’s easy to fully surrender to cynicism when it comes to environmental PR efforts, GM deserves kudos for going green on the manufacturing side of things. The power bought from Cactus Flats, plus that of another wind farm, is enough to keep the lights on and the assembly line humming at 16 GM facilities across Texas and the U.S. South. It’s part of a pledge to make the company’s facilities 100 percent green by 2050.

But at Arlington, there’s a bizarre juxtaposition. Of the models built there — the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade, the number of variants found with a hybrid drivetrain number zero. That same figure can be applied to vehicles sold without a V8 engine beneath the hood. GM cancelled the nearly invisible hybrid versions of its full-size SUVs half a decade ago. They weren’t missed. Currently, the highest combined fuel economy available from an Arlington-produced vehicle is 18 mpg. Curb weights don’t dip below 5,000 pounds, let alone 4,000.

Does the fact that these V8-powered behemoths appear in environmentalists’ nightmares take away from planet-saving efforts taking place in the vehicle’s periphery? Depends on who you ask.

If GM told the green movement to shove it and bought power straight from the Texas grid, it would be helping sustain a generation landscape where nearly half of power comes from coal, some 40 percent of it being high-polluting lignite. With this move, the big, brawny SUVs Americans clearly love have a nice, protective green blanket to wrap themselves in. Sure, the models’ popularity and generous engine displacement contributes to a countrywide fleet fuel economy average that hasn’t budged in years, but at the end of the day, that’s the consumers’ fault. Unless you’re Bill de Blasio, there’s always a cleaner alternative to your current ride.

GM didn’t have to do this, so it can be seen as admirable environmental penance. To other eyes, it’s purely cynical greenwashing — a PR solution that’s far cheaper than redesigning the current large SUVs with lighter frames and bodies, downsized engines, and MSRP-hiking hybridization. Whatever your view, GM will eventually have to revamp its BOF family to stay ahead of rival Ford. A restyling is due for 2020.

[Image: General Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Zipster Zipster on Oct 10, 2018

    Interesting how an article about green power appears at the same time that this site is assiduously avoiding mention of the U.N. climate change report. An implicit admission that the readers are not capable of understanding basic science or are too narcissistic to care about what lies ahead. The billions of gallons of gasoline that Americans unnecessarily burn at the rate of one ton of CO2 for every 100 gallons of gasoline consumed constitutes a major portion of the billion tons a year reduction requested in the report. Of course their special needs trump the consequences that everyone on the earth will bear in the years ahead.

  • Budda-Boom Budda-Boom on Oct 10, 2018

    Carbon dioxide - the gas of life, plant food - is not air pollution. Climate change is not man made - even the UN admits that if you dig far enough in the right places. This agenda is about power and control over Western Civilization. Period. The real climate change is happening before our eyes as we pass between solar cycles and live thru a period with no sunspots. IOW, global COOLING that has nothing to do with human activity. The "greenwashed" headline is snarky on its face. I happen to like my full-size GM BOF SUV and plan to buy another when I'm done driving this one - currently at 215,000 miles. All this said, there's nothing wrong with renewables so long as their place is understood. Having an "all of the above" energy strategy is the best route to sustainable energy independence at affordable prices.

    • See 2 previous
    • JimZ JimZ on Oct 10, 2018

      "Carbon dioxide – the gas of life, plant food " Water is essential to life, so I should be able to force you to drink 55 gallons of water all at once. Right?

  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
  • ToolGuy Also on to-do list: Read the latest Steve S. fiction work on TTAC (May 20 Junkyard Find)