“This is a big step toward the sunset of the combustion engine,” said Nick Nigro, founder of EV research group Atlas Public Policy. “Autos have to make tough choices in the near term about the kind of product they’re going to invest in and which products and product lines they’re willing to sunset in favor of electrification.”
The EPA’s EV projections are more aggressive than Biden’s goal, which was supported by major automakers nearly two years ago.
Biden’s executive order called for ZEVs — battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell — to make up 50 percent of new-vehicle sales by 2030. Since then, more automakers have committed to EV-only goals, with some aiming to surpass the target and others lagging behind it.
But unlike Biden’s ZEV goal and automakers’ voluntary commitments, the EPA’s car pollution standards must be followed.
“This regulation … is providing some binding limits and holding manufacturers accountable to those promises,” said Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But I don’t think that this is moving beyond where the auto industry itself was well-positioned to be.”
Automakers already will have invested $1.2 trillion in electrification globally by 2030, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents many of the automakers aiming for between 40 and 50 percent U.S. sales of ZEVs in that time frame.
In the U.S., automakers and their battery partners have committed at least $110 billion to electrify their products.
Those investments, in part, have been driven by policies such as manufacturing incentives and consumer tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act as well as funding for EV chargers and updates to the electric grid in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Neither of those laws was enacted when Biden set the ZEV goal in 2021.
“Today, both of these massive investment laws are in place that should be expediting the ability of car and truck manufacturers to meet more ambitious standards than what the president expected in 2021,” said Margo Oge, a former director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality.
She referred to the standards as “the single most important regulatory initiative by the Biden administration” to combat climate change.
Still, of the EPA’s proposal, Alliance CEO John Bozzella said it was “aggressive by any measure,” adding that the 50 percent target “was always a stretch goal” reliant on several conditions, such as supportive public policies, widespread and reliable EV charging infrastructure, vehicle affordability and access to battery critical minerals.
“The question isn’t can this be done, it’s how fast it can be done,” he said, “and how fast will depend almost exclusively on having the right policies and market conditions in place to achieve the shared goal of a net-zero carbon automotive future.”
One big risk to that future, however, is infrastructure, which Nigro referred to as one of the major challenges and unknowns for achieving the targets, calling the current U.S. policy framework “insufficient to the task.”
“Whether it be electric utilities or charging providers, they’re not positioned to be able to build the amount of infrastructure that’s necessary to meet the demand that is likely to come with not just the EPA rule but what the auto industry was already doing,” he said.