Biden's electric cars goals can be achieved, say experts

Biden's electric cars goals can be achieved, say experts
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President BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles MORE’s reported electric vehicle goals can be achieved but will require robust action from both the government and the private sector, say experts interviewed by The Hill.

The administration is reportedly pushing to have 40 percent of car sales be electric by the end of the decade, a major leap from the roughly 2 percent of sales they make up today. 

Still, experts on the industry say the jump can be achieved, and some proponents say the administration should try to go further. 

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“There has to be a process of change, but the transition can actually happen pretty quickly,” said Jessika Trancik, a professor who researches energy systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Many automakers are now ... making announcements about electrifying the vehicle models that they offer, so I think that that’s really important,” Trancik said. “The role of government policy of course is to make those sorts of decisions even more attractive and accelerate that whole process and also to put incentives in place so that electric vehicles can be available to people with different income levels.”

The transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the country, so reducing vehicle emissions is a major way the Biden administration can reach its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The administration also hopes to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. 

To have 40 percent of the U.S. auto fleet consist of electric vehicles, the nation will need cheaper models and more charging stations, said Trancik.

“The way government can have the most impact with these policies is to think carefully about incentives that leverage the innovation potential in the private sector,” she added. 

Josh Linn, a professor who researches the effects of environmental policies and market incentives at the University of Maryland, said one task ahead of automakers is to “figure out how to get consumers to like electric cars.”

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“I think that’s sort of the biggest obstacle right now,” he said. “Consumers just don’t seem to be terribly excited about them.”

He also noted limited choices for less-expensive vehicles, and said there would need to be additional reductions in battery costs so that automakers can sell them profitably. 

Linn said that reaching the goal is not just about the government spending money, but spending that money wisely. 

He said one approach should be “providing some support for the charging stations but not full support” so that companies also have to invest in charging stations themselves. He said subsidies should be targeted to lower-income consumers. 

The reported 40 percent goal comes as the House and Senate debate infrastructure legislation, which is expected to include funding aimed at incentivizing the buildout of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. 

Democrats have also indicated that they’ll include clean vehicle tax credits in a budget reconciliation package that will only need Democratic votes to pass if there are no defectors.

Meanwhile, several automakers have independently indicated that they’ll shift toward electric vehicles. GM has pledged to have an all-electric light-duty fleet by 2035 and Ford has said that 40 percent of its vehicle sales worldwide will be electric by 2030. 

Margo Oge, who directed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality for 18 years, said the fact that so many automakers are already on board means that the Biden administration should try to push them even further. 

“Given where we are with all the investments that the car companies are making, I believe the president can do better than 40 percent,” Oge said. 

“If you ask a company today what it can do 10 years from now, they’re going to be conservative,” she said. “If companies are saying today ‘we will support 40 percent [zero emissions vehicles] by 2030’ I believe that the White House can get them to up that position to 50 and 60 percent.”

Oge has called for making 50 to 60 percent of U.S. vehicle sales electric by 2030. By 2035, she said the country should aim to end sales of new cars that are gas-powered.

“Cars last in the marketplace for 12 to 15 years, so if we’re going to be carbon neutral in 2050 ... by 2035 we have to zero out new sales of gasoline and diesel cars,” she said.