President Biden wants 50 percent of all new cars sold in the United States by 2030 to be all-electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen-powered — a target he will set in an executive order later today, according to senior government officials. In addition, his administration will propose new fuel economy and emissions standards that will more or less erase the Trump administration’s rollback of previous Obama-era rules for cars made through 2025.
Biden will also sign an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop aggressive long-term regulations to support its 2030 target, which will also include medium and heavy vehicles.
“When I say electric vehicles are the future, I’m not kidding,” read a tweet from the president on Wednesday night.
This planned shift from internal combustion engines is not as aggressive as the approaches that have been proposed or initiated around the world. The European Union has proposed a de facto ban on the sale of new gas passenger cars by 2035, although France has pushed back the phasing out of hybrids, which still use fossil fuels. The United Kingdom wants to stop selling new combustion engine vehicles by 2030. China wants all new cars sold by 2035 at least be hybrid, but aims for 50 percent to be plug-in hybrid, battery-electric or hydrogen-powered.
California, once the leader in state-level environmental regulations, also wants to ban new gas cars by 2035.
On the policy side, the NHTSA’s proposed rule will aim to capture average annual fuel savings of just under four percent, according to Reuters, and an ultimate fleet average of approximately 52 miles per gallon for 2026 model year vehicles. Under the Obama-era rule, automakers were required to increase the average fuel economy of their fleets by five percent each year, with the goal of hitting a fleet average of 54 miles per gallon in the 2026 model year cars. The Trump administration has drastically changed this. reduced — during a climate crisis and a respiratory virus pandemic no less — to annual increases of just 1.5 percent and a target average of 40 miles per gallon. It did this despite the fact that the EPA had previously determined that automakers were “overcompliance” with the Obama-era rule.
The EPA, meanwhile, will propose a rule requiring emission reductions consistent with proposed fuel economy benefits, since fuel economy and tailpipe emissions are intrinsically linked. The two rule proposals will now go through a months-long public comment process before the final rules are proposed and accepted.
The Biden administration’s new proposals have already received support from some major automakers, who will separately announce their own targets for electrifying their fleets later today. Representatives from General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (the company formed when Fiat Chrysler merged with the French PSA group) will appear alongside Biden as he announces executive orders and proposed rules, as well as leaders of the United Auto Workers union.
That said, as reported by Reuters, those three Detroit automakers are only committing to a “shared ambition” that by 2030, 40 to 50 percent of new car sales will be plug-ins. vehicles, as well as “incentives to expand production and supply chains of electric vehicles in the United States,” according to a press release. The Biden administration has pushed to support the introduction of electric vehicles in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, although some proposed investments (such as for charging stations) have already been scaled back during negotiations.
GM has said it wants to be carbon neutral by 2040 and that eliminating tailpipe emissions from its vehicles by 2035 is just an “ambition”. Ford, which enjoyed early success with the Mustang Mach-E, has committed to going all-electric by 2030 – in Europe. The automaker plans to make 40 percent of its fleet globally all-electric by that year. Stellantis had previously said that more than 40 percent of its North American revenue by 2030 would be plug-in vehicles.
While Detroit’s automakers have announced massive investments in electric vehicles, they were by no means united on policy during the Trump administration.
After the EPA and NHTSA moved to roll back the Obama-era standards under Trump, Ford (as well as Volkswagen, Honda, BMW and Volvo) struck a deal with California to keep pushing for a relatively strict target. GM and what was then Fiat Chrysler, meanwhile, joined the Trump administration’s battle in court over California’s right to set its own emissions standards. The automakers (along with Toyota) have insisted they joined the court because they believed it should be up to the federal government to set these kinds of standards. But they’ve since given up on that fight – GM just after the 2020 election, and Stellantis earlier this year. Meanwhile, Biden’s EPA has already moved to reinstate California’s emissions regulatory authority.
Fully electric vehicles currently only make about two percent of total US sales, although they have risen sharply in recent months as the new and used car markets have turned red hot. More than 100,000 all-electric vehicles were sold in the US in the second quarter of 2021 Kelley Blue Book, largely driven by the success of Tesla’s Model 3 sedan and Model Y SUV. But hybrid vehicle sales also rose, with more than 250,000 cars sold, up 200 percent year over year.