Biden and Automakers Agree on 50% EVs by 2030—Are the Regulations Tough Enough?

The administration also wants automakers to raise gas mileage and cut tailpipe pollution by model year 2026.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during an event on the South Lawn of the White House August 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden delivered remarks on the administration’s efforts to strengthen American leadership on clean cars and trucks.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during an event on the South Lawn of the White House August 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden delivered remarks on the administration’s efforts to strengthen American leadership on clean cars and trucks.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Thursday was a big day for clean cars. Leaders of the Big Three American automakers—Mary Barra from General Motors, Jim Farley from Ford, Mark Stewart from Stellantis—stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President Joe Biden as he set a goal of 50% electric cars by 2030

The automakers’ record in this area is a bit spotty. Although they united around the Obama initiative in 2012 for 54.5 mpg fleet average by 2025, some of them changed course when the wind blew in former President Donald Trump. With CEOs nodding, he rolled back the standards to the point where the fleet would average 29 mpg in 2026. 

The Trump administration, and the automakers, appeared to be denying something rather obvious: China and Europe were electrifying rapidly, backed by regulations and non-negotiable demands. And although the modern lithium-ion battery pack was largely researched and developed in the U.S., Biden pointed out in his speech that 80% of the capacity to make them is now in China. “We have to move and move fast,” he said. “China is leading the race.” Biden’s approach has been to focus heavily on the American jobs that come with making EVs and batteries here. 

The 50% goal the automakers now embrace is voluntary, and their past behavior provides no guarantee they will stick to it. But also part of the announcement was a return to tougher regulatory standards, with a new goal of 52 mpg by 2026. By that model year, the industry will be required to reach a target of 171 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. 

The Obama standards ramped up 5% per year, and the Biden rules will do that from 2024 to 2026. But some environmental critics worry—a lot—about the loopholes. 

“This deal is not as good as what the auto companies agreed to in 2012,” said Dan Becker, director of the safe climate transport campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity.

He points to what are called “off-cycle credits,” which give automakers points for options like a rooftop solar system that wouldn’t show up in actual fuel economy testing on a dynometer. No, the solar doesn’t power the car—it might offer some cooling when parked on hot days.

“With credits, they can make more gas guzzlers for free,” he said. 

According to Chris Harto, senior policy analyst for Consumer Reports, “This proposal includes new and expanded loopholes for automakers, which would undermine the topline promise of the proposal.” The group’s analysis suggests that Biden’s proposal would deliver approximately 75% of the emissions savings in the Obama standards. According to Consumer Reports, “The loopholes are an unnecessary compromise, given that EPA’s own analysis indicates that loopholes around electric vehicles would not deliver on their stated purpose of increasing their sales.”

Other environmentalists weighed in. Charles Griffith, climate and energy program director for the Ecology Center in Michigan, said the new direction “will go a long way toward putting us on a path to address the climate challenge. However, the proposed standards must not be watered down and even stronger long-term emission standards will be needed to get us the rest of the way.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club want a 100% electric new car market by 2035, which is actually in line with many automakers’ plans. Plug In America would like to see only plug-in hybrids and battery cars being sold by 2030, with all EVs by 2035. Becker actually wants a faster ramp-up, with the last tailpipe car sold in 2030. He’d also like to see the standards get 7% tougher annually, which is unlikely to happen at this point. 

Behind Biden and the CEOs on the White House lawn were examples of ongoing electrification, including a Ford F-150 Lightning, a Chevrolet Bolt EV, and a plug-in Jeep Wrangler prototype. Obviously, the automakers realize the whole car industry is going electric, and even former laggards are on board now. Tailpipes would disappear without federal help, but they’ll be history much quicker with that aid. 

The Washington-based Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA), which wants 100% EV sales by 2030, says, “The Biden Administration has proposed more than $100 billion for consumer incentives, and it is imperative that the upcoming budget reconciliation process makes those investments a reality. To achieve the maximum impact, these consumer incentives should be provided at the point-of-sale, apply to both new and used vehicles, and include light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles.” 

But some of the money is already being taken off the table. Biden proposed $15 billion for EV charging in the infrastructure bill, but Senate negotiators cut that exactly in half. 

EVs were only 2.2 of U.S. vehicle sales in the first half of 2021. But interest is growing. Pew Research said in June that while just 7% of American adults own electrics or hybrids now, 72% of those polled said they were very (43%) or somewhat (29%) likely to consider one the next time they buy a vehicle. And 47% said they support proposals to phase out gasoline and diesel fuel. Of course, 51% opposed such moves. The U.S. does not have a united front on EVs.

View Article Sources
  1. Spencer, Alison, and Cary Funk. "Electric vehicles get mixed reception from American consumers." Pew Research Center, 2021.