It is not just Will Ferrell and General Motors who want to accelerate the electrification of the car fleet in the United States. During Joe Biden's more than one hundred days in the White House, it has become increasingly clear that the new president wants the same thing.
To the relief of many, Biden is obviously facing the climate crisis in a quite different way than his predecessor Donald Trump. In addition to taking the United States back into the Paris Agreement, Biden committed in April to cutting US greenhouse gas emissions by at least fifty percent by 2030, measured in relation to the level of emissions in 2005.
To achieve these emission cuts, the Biden administration is now investing heavily in implementing a number of measures to promote the American electric car dream.
Because even though the USA produces probably the world's most famous electric car, Tesla, the share of electric cars in the country is still disappearingly low, but is now on the rise.
Jump in electric car sales after Biden
“This is an exciting time for electric cars in the US, perhaps the most exciting ever,” says Joel Levin to elbil.no. He is clear that it has been a big month for electric cars.
Levin is the leader of Plug In America, an organization equivalent to the Norwegian Electric Car Association in the US, and he says that electric car sales in the country have been completely flat during the last two years with Trump. But as soon as Biden came to power, the numbers shot up:
“Electric car sales jumped sharply in the first quarter of 2021, to just over three percent of new car sales,” Levin says. In the two previous years, it had been stable at two percent. In total, just under two million electric cars have been sold in the United States, an isolated high, but still perhaps not particularly impressive number in Tesla's home country - the country's approximately 330 million inhabitants taken into account.
“I dare not be too optimistic, even though President Biden seems genuinely involved in the electric car case and there will be many good electric cars on the market this year,” Levin says.
Further down in the article, you can read what other American electric car and climate activists have to say about the situation in the United States right now.
Investment volume planned under Biden: a whopping $174 billion
It's not small money, what Biden is putting in the pot: 174 billion dollars or roughly 143 billion Euros, will be spent on various measures ranging from charging infrastructure to direct purchase of electric cars. Here are some of the measures the United States is now focusing on:
On January 25, Biden issued a presidential order to electrify the entire car sector in the public sector. Nearly 650,000 cars will thus in the long run be replaced by electric cars, both to reduce emissions, but also to lead by example when he wants his compatriots to invest in electric cars.
The presidential order proposes that the purchases should stimulate the country's own electric car industry so that the money remains in the country.
So far, no specific deadlines have been set for the progress of the purchases, but something is already being concretized: For example, it is now time for the American postal system to procure 165,000 electric mail vans.
Half a million charging stations
Biden will also accelerate the development of the charging infrastructure in the USA. As many as 500,000 new charging stations will be built across the country by 2030. In March this year, the country passed 100,000 charging stations nationally.
Around 15 billion dollars is the estimated cost of the project that will lead to charging corridors that will make it possible to drive an electric car across the country. At the same time, this promise will lead to more jobs and help to speed up again after the pandemic in what is still the world's largest economy.
Rewards and Benefits
In addition, Biden is positive that it may be relevant to introduce zero-emission zones in major American cities, an important signal that can contribute to accelerating the share of electric cars in major cities.
For example, for many years California has had its own and significantly stricter emission rules and has wanted to define parts of the state as zero emission zones, which Trump put a stop to. Now Biden has reversed this, so that it is free for states to set their own emission limits.
Tax breaks for electric car purchases are other measures the Biden administration advocates, and they are also looking at the possibility of subsidizing electric cars directly. In addition, the American car industry will receive support for the restructuring required by the green shift, both for technology development and for the rebuilding of factories.
At the same time, the American car industry will experience stricter emission requirements in the future, so that the car industry will experience both strong regulations and friendly benefits from the Biden administration in the future.
“In 2017, we launched campaigns in the states of California and Washington where we asked for clear phasing out plans for the sale of new fossil cars, as we have seen examples of in Europe. This was seen as complete madness in the beginning, but now we have already come a long way.” That's what Janelle London, deputy head of the organization Coltura, says, working to accelerate the shift from diesel and petrol to cleaner alternatives. The vision is a fossil-free United States by 2040, or hopefully even sooner.
California and Washington are still leading the way, the latter will phase out fossil cars by 2030. But now several states have come out with specific phasing-out dates - and surveys show that the majority of Americans support the shift from fossil cars to electric cars. “From a climate perspective, we are fighting against the clock if we are to achieve the United States' new goal of halving climate emissions by 2030, so we really need to pick up speed,” says Janelle London in Coltura.
What can we make of Biden's new electric car investment?
It is a great start to invest 174 million dollars in electric car incentives and charging infrastructure for sure. But to achieve a halving of fossil fuel use by 2030, it presupposes a rapid and comprehensive transition to electric cars from what we define as "gasoline super-users". This group makes up 20 percent of the United States 'drivers, and they account for almost half of the United States' total fuel consumption. If Biden's incentives manage to get this group into electric cars, much will be done.Many people seriously consider that the next car they buy should be electric, provided the range is good enough. Many Americans drive fossil-powered pickups and SUVs these days, and these cars account for a large portion of our increased climate emissions. But when this type of car comes to the US in the next couple of years and the charging offer gets better, experts project that the appetite for electric cars will increase enormously.
Think the US can overtake Europe and China
So far, the United States has lagged far behind both China and Europe on the electric car front. What does the Coltura deputy think about the country's chances of regaining the lead?
“We should not underestimate the ability of the United States to adapt. Many millions of American families have few or no objections to replacing at least one of the cars in the driveway with an electric car. With the right message and the right incentives, I think the United States can almost jump over both Europe and China within the next five to ten years.”
Most Americans realize the seriousness of the climate crisis, they understand that fossil cars are a big part of the problem and many are willing to do something about it. According to a recent poll conducted by Coltura, nearly 60 percent of voters in the state of Washington answered that they supported the "Clean Cars 2030" plan that was recently enacted. “But there is still a great need for increased knowledge and awareness in the US about the damage fossil fuels inflict on us, and all the benefits of electric cars,” concludes Janelle London.
The current electric car mood in the US is electric
Biden's investment package in electric cars and charging is brave - and exactly what the US needs now. That's what Jeanette Shaw, deputy director of Forth Mobility, a large American organization that works to make the entire transport sector cleaner, says. But she does not agree with Janelle London that the United States can overtake China when it comes to electric cars right away.
“Capturing China will be difficult for all countries, not least considering how large China's own market is. We can approach China, but due to a completely different form of government, we will not be able to move forward as quickly.”
Still, she has no doubt that electric cars have their momentum in the US right now, and she describes the general mood in the country simply as follows - Electric!
Jeanette Shaw expects continued growth and a normalization in having an electric car among Americans, but believes it all depends on electric car prices becoming competitive and the charging offer being expanded, both along the roads and in the workplace.
They are positive to the "common sense aspect" that lies in Biden's signals: In other words, considering the exceptional year the US has been through, with floods, forest fires, hurricanes, etc. It also helps that Biden's focus for the electric car investment is that it should create jobs and provide financial benefits. But the changes the United States is now facing are complex, Shaw emphasizes. The only way to implement them is through collaboration.
“If we are to make effective, lasting changes, it must happen through solutions that bring people together. This presupposes new types of collaboration from very different companies and organizations that often have little experience of collaborating, and which may until now have been in direct conflict with each other,” says Shaw.
She says that Forth is now, among other things, working on a project with electric tractors, where they are trying to get the agricultural sector and the environmental movement to realize that they often have common interests. “It is important to build bridges over conflict lines, and to make both city and country understand the benefits the electrical investment will provide for all parties.”
The deputy head of Forth reminds, that the US is still the world's third largest electric car market, and even though the population in general has not exactly pressed the electric car to their chests, the share of electric cars in the country is still increasing.
“Although the focus on electric cars has increased exponentially in the last year, we still see a lack of knowledge - and thus awareness - about electric cars among consumers,” says Shaw. She believes this applies even more to non-white Americans. And it is they who get to know the most negative effects of the United States' carbon-intensive transport system on the body, both in terms of health, economic and environmental consequences.
To limit these consequences, Shaw believes that it is now really urgent to speed up the electric car transition in the United States. “We must do this through politics, technological innovation, coalition building and increased community involvement. And we must learn from the experiences our international partners have already made,” says Shaw.
With the support we now see from the Biden administration, the United States will be able to take big steps forward - which is absolutely crucial when facing the climate challenges today.
This post was brought to you thanks to the partnership of MOTION Magazine and elbil.no, the Norwegian EV Association. We share interesting articles on the developments in the electric vehicle industry for our readers to experience the latest insights in the electrification of the mobility industry.
Photos courtesy of elbil.no, pluginamerica.org & Janelle London