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Why Is The USA Okay Being 5 Years Behind Europe & China On Vehicle Electrification?

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The big electric vehicle announcement the Biden administration wanted to make today is that it has gotten GM, Ford, and Stellantis onboard for a 2030 electric vehicle target that, unfortunately, is actually quite lame. (Side note: the event was about much more than this weak target, but I’ll come back to that at the end.) The target is for 50% of US light vehicle sales to be “zero emissions” by 2030. However, there are a few particularly disappointing spots in the text. One is that they are including plugin hybrids, so it’s not really a “zero emissions vehicle” target. That’s quite irritating by itself, but let’s move on. They’re also including hydrogen fuel cell cars, which is weird, since even the hype around hydrogen fuel cell cars is clearly dead, let alone the cars themselves.

Another weak spot is that the target seems to be for the US as a whole, not each automaker individually. As plenty of Tesla followers have pointed out, Tesla alone could supply a large chunk of that target, meaning that the other automakers’ combined target is even weaker than 50%, perhaps much weaker.

One thing I found particularly irritating in the announcement is the word I’ve put in bold in the following statement: “Specifically, the President will sign an Executive Order that sets an ambitious new target to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles.” No, this is not ambitious, not even close to it — and claiming that it is ambitious is embarrassing if not shameful. 50% full BEVs by 2025 would be ambitious. That’s what Volvo is targeting globally. That would be BEVs approximately doubling their US auto market share each year till then. That would be ambitious. A slow climb to some mixture of true EVs and faux EVs accounting for 50% of US auto sales by 2030 is not ambitious. Ford plans to be 100% electric in Europe by 2030. Volvo plans to be 100% electric there by 2030 as well. Volkswagen plans to be at 70% by then.

In June, 19% of new vehicle sales in Europe were sales of plugin vehicles. Without a doubt, Europe can hit 50% plugin vehicle share by 2025. China was at 15% plugin vehicle share in June, not far behind Europe. Again, I’d be surprised if China couldn’t achieve 50% plugin vehicle share by 2025. If that’s true and the US hit Biden’s “ambitious” goal of 50% plugin vehicles by 2030, that would mean the US would be ~5 years behind Europe and China.

In the title of this piece, I wrote, “Why Is USA Okay Being 5 Years Behind Europe & China On Vehicle Electrification?” By ignoring the trends in these other places and pretending the US is actually in a leadership position, it is as if the USA team is accepting being far below Europe and China. Why are American competitors seemingly fine with that? I guess it’s because no one sees the US as capable of competing. Europe and China clearly see the need for a fast transition to EVs and have passed laws requiring it. There’s no way that aggressive ZEV mandates or comparable fuel economy standards are going to get through the USA’s broken, corrupted legislation process. Half of the members of Congress are more or less owned by the oil & gas industry and do almost everything they can to stop progress. And then we struggle with a few seemingly illogical, stubborn “centrist Democrats” who won’t do much if it isn’t bipartisan, and certainly won’t permit ZEV mandates. So, at best, we are left with some decent carrots instead, and that’s it.

As Nio62, a non-Tesla EV owner responding to a CleanTechnica article earlier today, writes, “I agree that PHEV’s should not be discussed and 50% is too low. Biden should make it 100% full BEV by 2030. However his upfront rebates are extraordinary, if he can pass them.” Yes, if we can get them passed, the EV rebates Biden is proposing would be the USA’s best EV incentives ever. They could stimulate a lot more EV purchases in the coming years. However, it’s simply not enough to catch Europe and China, because it doesn’t require that automakers come up with the total supply that consumers will be wanting.

Some years ago, I was presenting at a cleantech conference and gave my pitch on why solar energy and EVs would increase in adoption quickly thanks to all of their benefits and word of mouth. A university professor thought I was way off on the topic of EVs, because their research showed that the only way to meet required climate targets was to mandate that automakers sell them, because they wouldn’t otherwise offer enough models, consumer choice, or supply. Well, I think we’ve seen by now who was right. Europe and China have required it (or the consequence of backbreaking fines), and automakers have gotten to work producing and selling enough. In the US, we just have consumer incentives and moderate mandates in a few states, and we have much, much lower EV market share that comes primarily from Tesla’s tremendous popularity. We’re at about 3% while Europe and China are well over 10% and growing fast. The USA can’t catch up without mandates. But that’s simply not going to happen in a country where half the population is yelling, “Get your commie a**es out of here! We’re free to kill ourselves via idiocy and fake news!” So, our best option legislatively at the moment is stronger consumer incentives (carrots), and even those are tough to get through Congress.

With all of that unfortunate justification for why the USA can’t win gold or bronze in EV adoption and leadership, I’m going to circle back to the thing I highlighted earlier: Don’t claim that the USA is a leader when it is not. Don’t claim that we’re being ambitious when we’re not. It’s an affront to common sense and it is insulting to imply that we can’t count and can’t see the obvious. It’s debatable whether Europe and China are being ambitious (I’d say they aren’t either), and they are half a decade or so ahead of the United States. There’s no reality in which the USA is being ambitious on EVs, and no reality in which we can call the USA a leader. Promote better EV incentives. Work hard to get them through Congress. But also be honest with the American people and state that fossil-funded Republicans and “moderates” are blocking progress and holding the USA back from truly competing with Europe and China.

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Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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