Speaking and working closely with automakers and their special relationship to the English language for more than 20 years, one of my primary jobs has been to translate what designers and corporate executives say into words that people outside of the Glass House and RenCen can understand.

For example, I avoid talking about DLOs in stories – daylight openings are windows or windshields and don’t deserve a special term. Every industry has jargon, but car people torture the spoken word like few other groups (hands-down, the military and its love of inscrutable acronyms wins that competition).

In late January, General Motors (GM) announced that it will focus future efforts on zero-emissions electric vehicles (EVs), with plans to stop producing gasoline- and diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2035. It’s a bold plan, but it sounds a lot bolder if you don’t speak auto-executese.

Within a few hours of the announcement, news sites began posting stories, but there was a definitive split surrounding skepticism between national outlets and organizations that deal with automakers daily. National headlines included:

  • The New York Times: G.M. Will Sell Only Zero-Emission Vehicles by 2035
  • The Washington Post: General Motors to eliminate gasoline and diesel light-duty cars and SUVs by 2035
  • The Wall Street Journal: GM to Phase Out Vehicles Powered by Gasoline, Diesel by 2035
  • Fox News: General Motors to go all-electric by 2035

Automotive- and Detroit-based publications, however, added important qualifiers:

  • Detroit Free Press: GM hopes to eliminate gas vehicles, have all-electric portfolio by 2040
  • Detroit News: GM seeks to end making gas- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035
  • Automotive News: GM aims to stop selling gasoline vehicles by 2035 in carbon neutrality pledge
  • Today’s Motor Vehicles: General Motors hopes to stop making gasoline-burning cars by 2035

GM’s all-electric plan is a bold step into a radically different future, but 14 years is a long time, and a lot can happen, hence the frequent use of the word “aspire” in its announcement. Executives are carefully threading the needle between generating excitement for a bold future (and hopefully winning a Tesla-like price-to-earnings ratio for GM stock), and making promises they won’t be able to keep if battery technologies don’t develop as quickly as hoped, if consumer demand for EVs wanes, or if any host of economic calamities interferes with their targets.

We auto-to-English translators have a lot of experience with this. We’ve had to explain to readers how 54.5mpg fuel economy targets really mean 42mpg real-world results. We’ve had to explain what a partial-zero-emissions vehicle (PZEV) is (I didn’t ace all of my math classes, but I’m pretty sure that you can’t have a part of zero). And we’ve managed to write stories about car designs without referring to greenhouses, belt lines, or enclosures.

GM’s announcement is big news, despite the conditional language. Throughout this coming change to the industry, we at Today’s Motor Vehicles hope to translate those developments for you from corporate-speak into English.