The Biden administration will announce toughened automotive fuel economy standards today, along with a target for boosting sales of plug-based vehicles to between 40 and 50% of the U.S. market by decade’s end.
Though the goal for EVs is substantially more than what the industry previously targeted, the plan won advance praise from numerous automakers. But it also is coming in for criticism from some environmentalists who feel the White House isn’t reaching far enough.
“When I say electric vehicles are the future, I’m not joking. Tune in for big news tomorrow,” Biden wrote in a Twitter post on Wednesday. He is scheduled to outline the administration’s plans at 3 p.m. EDT on Thursday.
Biden to reverse cuts made by his predecessor
While specific details could change by the time the announcement is made, industry sources have been expecting the Biden administration to reverse the rollback in Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards ordered by President Donald Trump.
According to reports by the Washington Post and other media, the new target is an average 3.7% annual reduction in carbon dioxide emissions through 2026. Since carbon production is directly linked to the amount of fuel an internal combustion uses that would yield a similar improvement in fuel efficiency each year.
That falls midway between the 5% target enacted by the Obama administration and the rolled back 1.5% target set by the Trump White House. It also would match the compromise standard five automakers previously agreed to with the State of California.
The 40 to 50% EV goal the White House is expected to seek apparently will be voluntary, though automakers said they’re onboard with the goal.
“Today, Ford, GM and Stellantis announce their shared aspiration to achieve sales of 40-50% of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles (battery electric, fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles) by 2030 in order to move the nation closer to a zero-emissions future consistent with Paris climate goals,” the Detroit “Big Three” automakers said in a joint statement released Thursday morning.
The largest of the Japanese automakers, meanwhile, said in a statement, “You can count on Toyota to do our part.” Hyundai said it “supports the Biden administration goal.” But the Korean carmaker cautioned, “Meeting this goal will be challenging and underscores the need for robust incentives for consumers.”
The industry’s support — at least for voluntary EV targets — is no surprise to industry analysts. Automakers have committed an estimated $330 billion by mid-decade to develop battery-electric cars and convert plants to build them, according to an analysis by AlixPartners. Some plan to shift entirely to battery-electric vehicles — Mercedes, Bentley and Volvo by 2030, GM “aspiring” to get there by 2035. Others, including Toyota, Hyundai, Honda and Ford, expect to switch to a blend plug-in hybrids, BEVs and even hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles by the end of the decade.
Activists want a more dramatic move
As the new president came into office last January, many environmentalists pressed his administration to reach even further, at the least returning to the Obama goal of reaching 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
Activists also sought a hard date for banning the sale of new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Neighboring Canada recently laid out plans for such a transition to take place in 2035, the European Union drafting a similar target. The states of California and Washington have issued similar timelines. The UK, meanwhile, recently advanced its own EV target to 2030.
Ahead of the formal announcement Thursday afternoon, there was clear push back from some environmentalists.
“Today’s proposal relies on unenforceable voluntary commitments from unreliable car makers,” argued Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign of the Center for Biological Diversity. Describing the Biden plan as “loophole-ridden,” Becker said “strong rules” are the only way to get automakers to cut emissions.
Where’s the money?
Activists were joined by at least one of the many new automakers specifically focused on EVs, meanwhile. “This draft proposal would drive us in the right direction after several years in reverse,” said Chris Nevers, senior director of environmental policy at electric vehicle maker Rivian Automotive, “but slowly getting back on track is not enough.”
The Biden infrastructure bill was initially intended to deliver $174 billion to back up the push for electric vehicles. That was to have included money for a nationwide charging network, as well as an expanded program of federal tax credits for EV buyers. The bipartisan compromise working its way through the Senate pared the numbers back sharply but EV funding could be increased as the House takes on the legislation, which would then have to go to the president for his signature.