New Poll Shows GM’s Opposition to Clean Car Standards Results in Serious Reputational Damage Among GM Customers

Published Apr 16, 2020

WASHINGTON (April 16, 2020)—A poll conducted by Matt George Associates for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that General Motors’ favorability rating among GM vehicle owners plummets when the owners learn about the automaker’s failure to support strong vehicle pollution standards.

Released today, the poll of 1,000 Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and GMC owners found that GM’s customers – regardless of party affiliation – believe strongly that GM should support stronger fuel efficiency and vehicle pollution standards. GM’s decision to join an October 2019 lawsuit to take away states’ authority to adopt stronger tailpipe pollution standards also worsens consumers’ opinion of the company.

According to Matt George, founder and principal pollster for Matt George Associates, the drop in customer loyalty isn’t just about reputation. It also might be felt by the company at the dealership level in lost sales.

“In our poll, 51 percent of loyal GM customers who began the survey saying they would ‘definitely purchase’ another GM vehicle in the future changed their minds after learning about GM’s corporate behavior, including their opposition to stronger fuel efficiency and pollution standards,” said George. “On the other hand, 76 percent of GM owners said their opinion of the company would improve if the company reversed its position on the standards and supported states’ rights to set stronger rules.”

George added that other factors played a role in customers’ diminished brand affinity, including the company’s decision to close their Lordstown, Ohio plant - which produced one of the automaker’s most fuel-efficient cars - laying off 1,600 auto workers in the process. GM owners were also swayed when shown data that GM has not produced cleaner cars, thus breaking part of its 2009 bailout agreement with the federal government.

The poll is a warning to GM and other automakers that abandoning their commitment to cleaner cars and innovation comes with a cost, according to Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst for the Clean Transportation Program at UCS.

“Not only do they make themselves less competitive globally by pushing for less ambitious fuel efficiency and pollution standards, but GM’s track record of putting its own short-term profits before people — their own employees, customers and American taxpayers — will have a long term impact on their brand and position in the marketplace,” said Cooke. “GM’s actions are making their own customers consider other brands, and they’re decimating their reputation as a corporate innovator in the process.”

Key findings from the poll include:

  • GM’s failure to support strong vehicle pollution standards results in the company’s favorability falling from 93 percent to 44 percent - a 53-point reputational loss.
  • 82 percent of Republicans and 93 percent of Democrats who own GM vehicles think GM should support stronger pollution standards designed to help the environment and improve gas mileage.
  • 60 percent of GM owners surveyed became less supportive of the company’s decision to join the October 2019 lawsuit once informed that the company’s vehicle fleet ranked third from last among all car manufactures in average emissions and fuel efficiency. As detailed in a 2018 Automotive Trends Report, GM ranked third from last in both fuel efficiency and emissions metrics from 2013-2018.
  • 63 percent of GM owners became less supportive of the company’s decision to join the October 2019 lawsuit when reminded that before suing to ease clean car standards, GM announced 15,000 layoffs, including an entire plant in Lordstown, Ohio, which produced the Chevy Cruze, one of GM’s most-fuel efficient models - and posted a $2.8 billion profit in the same quarter.
  • The number of GM owners who said they might consider purchasing from another brand or would definitely choose another manufacturer more than doubled, rising from 30 percent at the beginning of the poll to 67 percent after the survey respondents learned more about GM’s corporate behavior.
  • 76 percent of GM owners say that their opinion of the company would improve if GM were to reverse course and oppose the lawsuit against strong state standards.

This poll comes on the heels of a similar survey conducted earlier this year for UCS, which found that Toyota’s failure to support strong vehicle pollution standards resulted in a nearly one-third decline in the company’s favorability rating among existing Toyota owners.