General Motors Hosts Union of Concerned Scientists in Detroit

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General Motors Hosts Union of Concerned Scientists in Detroit

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Friday, May 31, 2013 - 10:00am

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Andy Gunther has a new marketing idea for the Chevrolet Volt: Each vehicle should come with a bottle of Windex to clean the windshield, since Volt owners rarely stop at gas stations to fill up.

Dr. Gunther, who is the executive director of the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration, a member of the Board of Directors of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and a Volt owner, was in Detroit earlier this month with UCS staff, board, and advisory board members to visit with General Motors and learn about the technologies that are transforming GM and the industry.

In the past, UCS and GM typically had different positions on various policy issues. But in recent years, they’ve applauded us for being the first to bring to market electric vehicles like the Volt and Chevrolet Spark EV, and demonstrating our commitment to electrification.

“Our relationship with GM over the years has sometimes been contentious, but always a serious and direct relationship,“ said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “My sense has always been that when GM puts its mind to something, GM delivers.”

One of the key areas GM wanted to highlight to UCS was electrification. Through demonstrations of smart charging, electric motors, and batteries, GM wanted attendees to leave knowing that GM is a leader, and very committed, when it comes to electrification in vehicles.

“The Union of Concerned Scientists has been critical of the auto industry in the past, and GM in particular,” said David Tulauskas, director of sustainability for GM. “But the fact that they asked to visit shows that actions such as the introduction of the Volt and Cadillac ELR, as well as fuel economy advancements, are beginning to change their opinions.”


Robert Hickler is a member of the UCS National Advisory Board, but he’s not a scientist; far from it, actually. He has a background in the software industry and global information systems, so he has an idea of how information travels through nodes and networks to get from one system to another. In his opinion, visits like this serve to get better information to the public and help them better understand the work GM is doing to help the environment.

“I think that what the company is doing is significant,” said Hickler, who owns stock in GM. “But I suspect that most people in the world don’t have any idea that GM is different from what it was ten years ago.”

Changing perception is one way Hickler thinks we are going to step toward “sane planetary occupancy.” He wants to see companies like GM continue to tell their story broadly because it’s the only way people will take notice.

“It’s important to tell people that you take this stuff seriously, and that the work is important, despite all of the misinformation being thrown around by people who are interested in keeping things the same,” adds Hickler.

The importance of evidence-based decision-making, and sharing the information with interested parties, is one of the main reasons why people like Hickler have joined and continue to support UCS. Indeed, Andy Gunther’s interest in the organization was piqued when one of the founders of UCS spoke in a class about the fundamental relationship between science and democracy.

“The message really hit for me, as someone who comes from a tradition of political action, and it became a natural fit,” says Gunther of joining UCS.

Getting the message across is a major way members of UCS believe big corporations can shift the tone of climate change dialogue, which is part of the reason why GM brought this group out to the advanced battery lab in Warren, Mich. Why just talk to them when you can show them, too?

“There are lots of large corporations that are influencing the dialogue in a very negative way,” says Gunther. “And I think that needs to be countered.”

Perhaps Peter Frumhoff, the group’s Director of Science & Policy who oversees their scientific work, put it best when he said that we are in an enormously important moment.

“The opportunity for GM to be a constructive, positive, forward-looking messenger about the actions being taken to reduce emissions, and provide customers with cars that they want, and support the public conversation we need, is sorely needed and very powerful,” said Frumhoff.


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Keywords: Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration | Chevrolet Spark EV | chevrolet volt | union of concerned scientists

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