TRAVERSE CITY, MI – A top General Motors engineer says he is often scoffed at when talking about powertrain strategy extending to 2050, as many in the industry argue there’s no reason to look that far ahead.

But Gary Smyth, executive director-North American Science Labs, GM global research and development, warns that those who aren’t planning ahead do so at their own peril.

Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here, Smyth says both U.S. state and federal regulations call for a 50%-80% reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050.

With most modern vehicles lasting more than 17 years, it takes nearly two decades to turn over the vehicle parc, or the number of cars and trucks on the road, he says.

The industry has to “be looking at high-volume production (of low-emissions vehicles) by 2030 to allow us to meet (the 2050) requirements,” Smyth says. “And we need cycles of (developing new technology) of five years a cycle.”

At that pace, Smyth says the industry will have gone through about three cycles of learning by 2030, meaning “2030 becomes 2015 when we need to be producing these technologies.”

GM is developing a number of advanced technologies to meet the looming requirements, including hydrogen fuel cells and battery-electric vehicles. But he says there is no one technology that will serve as a “silver bullet,” noting it will take a wide range of technologies to meet government requirements.

“If we’re going to meet the requirements, we need to be developing the right technologies now and introducing them over the next five to 10 years, and we need to be ramping up volume rapidly so we can change the vehicle parc to make this a reality,” Smyth says.

Government will require the vehicle parc to be compliant with regulations in 2050, he says, not just new vehicles.

The next decade is a crucial time for the industry, Smyth says, because it will determine whether the right technologies to power future vehicles will be selected.

As for those who argue it’s too early to be concerned about 2050 regulations, he issues this word of warning: “When we (talk about) 2050 and CO2, make no mistake, it’s here and now. And that’s why we’re in this period of transformation.”

bpope@wardsauto.com