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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
gm gets epa nod for building the most greenwashed large suvs on the market

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]

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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?

  • MaintenanceCosts All I want is one more cylinder. One more cylinder and I would happily pay the diesel fraud company almost whatever they wanted for it.
  • SPPPP US like Citroen - nothing moves.
  • Jeff S Corey--Thanks again for this serious and despite the lack of comments this is an excellent series. Powell Crosley does not get enough recognition and is largely forgotten even in his hometown of Cincinnati although the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Airport has 2 Crosley cars on display. Crosley revolutionized radios by making an affordable radio that the masses could afford similar to what Henry Ford did with the Model T. Both Crosley and Ford did not invent the radio and the car but they made them widespread by making them affordable. I did not know about the Icyball but I did know about Crosley refrigerators, airplanes, cars, and radios.
  • Oberkanone C5 Aircross is the only vehicle that would have any appeal in North America. Can't see it doing well with Citroen badge, maybe a chance with Chrysler badge.
  • Oberkanone 1921 thru 1936 are the best
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