GM talks about the challenge of going green

May 1, 2008 8:11:28 PM PDT
One day after General Motors posted a $3 billion quarterly loss, its chief executive came to the Bay Area. His appearance on Thursday was part of an effort to show how GM is moving toward clean, alternative-energy cars, but he was met by skeptics.

General Motors admits its cars aren't big sellers in California. GM's Chief Executive admits its market share in China is bigger.

And speaking to the Commonwealth Club, Rick Wagoner faced skeptics who wonder if GM is serious about going green.

"They've been slow out of the gate, and now they're playing catch-up," says Fraser Smith Ph.D., a San Francisco resident and proponent of plug-in hybrids.

GM is testing a small fleet of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in Southern California. Feedback from consumers will help to shape the next generation. GM also has bought small biofuel companies. CEO Wagoner says not to go into the fuel business, but to learn more about alternate fuels. Progress has been slow and part of the reason is the supply chain.

"As you can imagine, the supply base in some of those technologies is ramping up quickly, doing their best, but challenged to keep up with the demand for batteries or whatever," says Rick Wagoner the General Motors Chairman and CEO.

Still GM has an image problem.

"They're not being good stewards of the environment. It's not just a matter of going green," says Michael Anthony, a San Francisco resident.

Two environmental groups showed their impatience with the giant automaker's progress by briefly disrupting the speech. When it comes to replacing fossil fuel cars, Wagoner says its companies like his, that will make a difference on a mass scale.

"This isn't going to be solved by 2,000 cars here, 5,000 there, 10,000, it's going to be solved by someone coming up with a solution that can significantly shift the fleet of vehicles to different fuels or different propulsion technologies," says Wagoner.

Wagoner points out that GM has been successful building smaller, fuel-efficient cars in places like Europe, where fuel has traditionally been higher in cost. But rather than importing them here, he would prefer to build cars where they're sold. That has to put smiles on the faces of U.S. autoworkers.


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