Biden Hits Gas Pedal on EV Push

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The Biden administration last week rolled out an ambitious topline target pledging that half of all US vehicle sales in 2030 would be zero emission. President Joe Biden, speaking on the White House lawn on Aug. 5, flanked by executives from Ford, General Motors, Stellantis and the United Auto Workers, outlined a multiprong plan for setting a "new pace for electric vehicles [EVs]." Biden spoke of a future of US car manufacturing sector "that is electric -- battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, fuel-cell electric. It’s electric, and there’s no turning back." The timing of Biden’s plan appeared to hinge somewhat on behind the scenes talks in recent weeks during which administration officials reportedly pressed car makers to commit to a 2030 pledge. Biden last week touted announcements from "automakers representing nearly the entire auto industry market" positioned around a 40%-50% target by 2030. "This is a big deal," Biden said. In press statements, executives from Ford, GM and Stellantis, which includes Jeep, Ram and Chrysler, said they had a "shared aspiration" to reach EV sales of 40%-50% by 2030, but stopped short of committing to the 50% target. Ford CEO Jim Farley said that the company expects to be "well positioned" to hit 40%-50% by 2030 and is counting on "strong cooperation" from the administration. All three car companies have in recent weeks separately made public statements indicating steps to accelerate EV production in their respective fleets (NE Apr.2'20). But the 2030 target itself is nonbinding, and Washington clean energy advocates have met the announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism. "At first blush, it may look like the administration went big," says Dave Cook, senior vehicles analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a recent blog post. But Biden’s regulatory proposal "falls short" of what is needed, Cook adds. And while Biden has put a lot of stock in accelerating EV investments, Democrats secured just $7.5 billion in EV funding in a bipartisan infrastructure package passed by the Senate this week. Senate leadership has already directed the Senate environment committee to begin drafting language for clean transportation investments in a partisan budget bill Democrats are drafting, but it is not clear what kind of price tag will be attached (NE Jul.15'21). Biden, in an executive order last week, outlined a host of regulatory steps for his federal agencies to work toward implementing the target, including a just-issued proposal for revising tailpipe emissions standards and corresponding fuel economy targets for model years 2023-26. The directive also includes laying the groundwork for developing stronger standards for model years 2027-30. Shortly after Biden’s announcement, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its proposed revisions to clean car standards for model years 2023-26, which amounts to a top range of fuel efficiency equivalent of 52 miles per gallon by 2026. That compares with the Trump-era standards that would see fuel efficiency increase to just 43.3 miles per gallon for that year (NE Aug.8'19). A senior administration official has credited an agreement reached between California, BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo last year with laying the groundwork for the administration’s 50% target. That agreement saw those automakers sign on to commit to generally preserve annual improvements in fuel efficiency on par with the estimated 4% increase in efficiency through the mid-2020s put in place by the Obama administration. According to the EPA, the proposed standards would increase by the biggest jump in stringency for model year 2023, followed by a nearly 5% increase in each model year from 2024 through 2026. However, advocates have been skeptical of the EPA proposal, saying that while it is a dramatic improvement over the Trump-era rollbacks, it affords too much wiggle room. According to Cook, the flexibilities could add up to the Biden proposal falling short of the levels the Obama-era standards mandated by as much as 30% by 2026. According to the EPA, the proposal would result in 2.2 billion tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions through 2050, the equivalent estimate of emissions from all 2019 US oil combustion. But, Cook argues, the proposal also suggest extending offcycle credits and other vulnerabilities for manufacturers beyond what the Obama-era rules would have done, undercutting their impact. Bridget DiCosmo, Washington

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