G.M.’s move appears to follow a pattern by Ms. Barra of responding quickly to changes in the White House. It was Ms. Barra who, in the early days of the Trump administration, met with the new president in the Oval Office and asked him to roll back the tough Obama tailpipe pollution rules.
Four years later, her company’s evident about-face has won her the good will of those working to put those rules back in place.
“This move by G.M. is a big deal,” said Margo Oge, a former Obama administration official who played a lead role in developing the tough fuel economy standards and now informally advises the Biden administration and auto companies. “This helps the Biden-Harris administration to focus on long-term decarbonization of vehicles rather than just cleaning up the Trump mess.”
The chief executive of Audi, the luxury car company owned by Volkswagen, said customers would ultimately determine the speed of the transition to electric cars. “Ten years ago, nobody would have been able to foresee the enormous speed of change,” Markus Duesmann, the chief executive, who is also head of technology for Volkswagen, said in a statement.
Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a veteran industry analyst, said that even if European carmakers had not put a date on internal combustion’s demise, there was a consensus that electric cars would dominate within 10 or 15 years. “Mary Barra is a good C.E.O.,” Mr. Dudenhöffer said. “She has the right strategy.”
Mr. Biden made clear on his first day in office that he intends to make tackling climate change one of the driving forces of his agenda. Chief among them are the federal standards on auto tailpipe pollution, which is the nation’s single largest source of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
The Obama-era standards had required automakers to achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, which would have eliminated about six billion tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution over the lifetime of the vehicles, and required a large-scale transition to hybrid and electric vehicles. The Trump administration rolled back the standard to about 40 miles per gallon, essentially eliminating the need for companies to invest in such technology.