When something has been around for one hundred years, as GM has, you can get to know its personality pretty darn well. And if there's one thing we should consider as the debate rages up on high about propping up this addled dotard, it's GM's long string of criminal, that's right, criminal, behavior over the last century.
In our opinion, GM is guilty of three major crimes during its existence. As we go back in time, our memory fades, so it's worth a quick reminder of whose interests this corporation was serving as it went about its business of making and selling cars: its own or the American people's?
First, and by far the least criminal, was the crushing of the EV1 at the beginning of the decade. This was a pioneering electric vehicle produced by GM's engineers to comply with California's Zero Emission Vehicle mandate passed in 1990, requiring that 2% of the vehicles sold in the state be zero emission by the turn of the century. GM leased the EV1 rather than sold it. When California buckled under oil industry pressure to drop their ZEV standards, GM called in all the leases on the car and crushed them all! Instead of perfecting its electric vehicle line as the evidence of global climate disruption became stupefyingly clear over the last decade, GM concentrated on producing mammoth-sized SUVs that often got single-digit mpg. If GM had kept its electric car, how many would it be selling today? Would it even need to be bailed out?
Second, in collusion with Standard Oil (aka Exxon) and several others (including Firestone), GM illegally conspired to eliminate streetcar service to achieve a monopoly of the automobile and the elimination of widespread mass transit options in American cities. Guess what? It worked like a charm. In our city of a quarter million (Durham, NC), all evidence of street cars is long gone, except in grainy black and white photos of bustling streets with plenty of pedestrians and street vendors from before WWII.
Last but not least, in the 1920's GM colluded with Standard Oil (of course) to add lead to gasoline to keep engines from knocking. Although higher octane gas would have done the trick, it was cheaper to simply add lead. Unfortunately for us Americans, leaded gas is a poison that severely damages brain development in children. Did they know this at the time? Oh, yeah. Did they care? Nope! They saved a few pennies and made that extra profit at the expense of the health of us all.
Nothing has changed. GM's behavior has been consistent throughout its existence: put the profit of the corporation and its executives above the interests of the American people. Since it's becoming increasingly clear that worldwide oil production has passed its peak, what could save this company with its line of giant cars? It won't be the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid supposedly coming out at the same time as the Toyota Prius Plug-in, about two years from now. Why not let our many entrepreneurs take over the task of building the next century of more sustainable transportation, from the Aptera to Tesla's Model S to the Think!, to name just a handful. One hundred years is enough.
Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit from Chelsea Green. For more information about green living, the Hrens, or their book, visit chelseagreen.com.