GM Hit With $146 Million Fine For 5.9 Million Vehicles Emitting Too Much Carbon Dioxide

Older SUVs and trucks between the 2012 and 2018 model years put out at least 10% more CO2 than GM claimed

GM Renaissance Center - Detroit
GM’s current RenCen headquarters in Detroit. The company will move its headquarters to another Detroit location next year. (Images: General Motors)

U.S. authorities found millions of GM vehicles failed to comply with CO2 emissions and fuel economy standards, but will not take them off the road.

As the result of a multi-year investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded Wednesday that 5.9 million General Motors vehicles failed to comply with emissions regulations. As a result, the company will pay $145.8 million in fines, and forfeit 50 million metric tons in carbon allowances, worth millions more.

The EPA’s testing showed that GM SUVs and trucks built between 2012 and 2018 emit 10% more carbon dioxide, on average, than the automaker initially claimed in its compliance testing with the agency. Vehicles also consumed 10% more fuel than the window stickers suggested. Affected models include 4.6 million full-size pickups and SUVs including the Chevy Tahoe, Suburban, Avalanche, Silverado, GMC Yukon and Sierra and Cadillac Escalade are covered. 1.3 million more midsize SUVs also fall under this action, including the Chevy Equinox, Captiva and GMC Terrain.

“Our investigation has achieved accountability,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, “and upholds an important program that’s reducing air pollution and protecting communities across the country.”

Automakers are required to test vehicles that have been on the road for one year, then again at four years, submitting each result for evaluation by the EPA. The agency says it also conducts its own tests to ensure vehicles on the road are complying with the emissions standards for the period in which the cars are built, and that both its own results and GM’s found the vehicles were polluting more than the automaker initially reported.

An EPA spokesperson said the violations were not intentional, and GM is not admitting to any wrongdoing or that it willfully violated the Clean Air Act. Rather, the automaker says the issue stems from a change in test procedure in 2016.

Unlike Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal, however, the EPA is not forcing GM to take corrective action with the affected vehicles. These models “cannot be repaired”, as GM contends there is no material defect that caused the excessive CO2 emissions. Some are not convinced it was just a simple error, however. A report by the Associated Press quotes David Cooke, senior vehicles analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists: “You don’t just make a more than 10% rounding error”.

Last year, GM paid $128.2 million in penalties for not meeting fuel economy requirements in 2017. Other automakers, including Hyundai, Kia and Stellantis, have also collectively paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for noncompliance with emissions standards. Volkswagen’s case is the most significant in recent memory, wherein the company admitted it rigged more than half a million vehicles to defeat emissions testing, while its cars actually emitted as much as 40 times the allowed amount of nitrous oxides and other pollutants. That scandal cost VW more than $30 billion, while two U.S. executives were imprisoned.

Including the forfeiture of carbon credits, GM noted in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this year that it expected total penalties for this settlement to total about $450 million.