Biden's $174 Billion EV Plan Is Coming Into Focus

The administration's strategy includes boosting domestic recycling of batteries.

Joe Biden

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President Joe Biden’s $174 billion plan to electrify the nation’s transportation fleet is an ambitious one, with many opportunities to go off the tracks. “We’re going to set a new pace for electric vehicles,” Biden said, as he admired (and drove) the much-admired Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck. “This sucker’s fast,” he said. 

Set to sell for less than $40,000, with 230 miles of range, the Lightning has already drawn more than 100,000 advance orders. So far in 2021, Ford is actually building more Mustang Mach-Es than conventional Mustangs. Jeep launched a plug-in hybrid 4xe Wrangler and darned if it isn’t the bestselling car in its class, outselling the Prius. The electric revolution is making progress, albeit slowly. Electrified cars are only about 2% of sales

Biden’s plan, which could give those sales a jump start, is only just coming into focus. In an update on May 18, the White House said it would apply $25 billion to transit buses, and $20 billion to convert 20% of the nation’s school buses to electric. “This will improve the air that kids breathe and create jobs in clean bus manufacturing,” Biden said. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the biggest electric vehicle companies that makes school buses, Proterra, announced plans to go public in a $1.6 billion deal that includes a SPAC merger. 

A total of $15 billion has been set aside to provide grants and incentives for public EV charging. The goal of 500,000 stations—a five-fold increase from the current tally—will probably need a lot more than that. Biden’s plan would see chargers in apartment buildings, in parking lots and shopping centers, and establish a network of DC fast charging (taking a conventional EV to 90% charge in 30 minutes) across the country. And $35 billion would go to climate-related R&D, including $15 billion for the Department of Energy to underwrite, among other things, advanced battery research. 

The Biden administration has proposed over $170 billion in spending to boost the production of zero-emission buses and cars and increase the number of EV charging stations.

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The critical task is to make solid-state batteries, without liquid electrolytes, viable for cars. The promise is for safer, lighter, and cheaper batteries with greater range. Asia Nikkei said last year that Toyota would soon deliver (in the “early 2020s”) solid-state batteries with 310 miles on a charge, and a full charge in 10 minutes. A number of startups are also in the space

Biden also wants new tax incentives for zero emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, but he’s not putting numbers on that. The federal $7,500 income tax credit is still in place but has run into a 200,000-vehicle cap for Tesla and GM. A long-shot bill introduced in the Senate would remove the 200,000-car cap, and enrich the credit with $2,500 for American-made vehicles, and another $2,500 if the workforce is unionized. Only EVs $80,000 and below would qualify. The credit would disappear when more than half of the cars sold in the U.S. are electric. The price tag could be more than $30 billion over 10 years. 

Reuters reported on June 4 that Biden’s plans also include assistance for domestic recycling of batteries—the lithium can be reused, but not much of that is happening now. The plan would also capture and recycle metals like cadmium from batteries, and fund research into how to best reuse the recaptured materials. Without recycling, 8 million tons of battery scrap could end up in landfills by 2040, U.S. officials said. 

Funding is far from guaranteed for any of these incentives. A $568 billion Republican counter-offer to the Biden $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure package would zero out EV funding. “What the administration is doing is spending billions more on subsidies related to electric vehicles than on the roads and bridges upon which they travel,” said Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). 

Columnist George Will also grumbled that in the past private enterprise built our fueling infrastructure. “When U.S. automobile sales exploded from eight million vehicles on U.S. roads in 1920 to 23 million in 1930 without tax credits, the private sector, responding to real rather than synthetic demand, built sufficient gas stations,” Will said. He’s not wrong, but there’s a reason the electrification of America has to run on an accelerated timetable—and it’s called climate change. 

The damage caused by an undiminished release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would be far more expensive than subsidizing some charging stations.