In recent years, the American car market has been pushed toward becoming a significantly more electric one by the Biden Administration's strict Environmental Protection Agency rules. Those car tailpipe emission rules are so strict that they could result in two-thirds of all new cars having emissions at all by 2032. But now, after months of pressure from automakers, dealers, labor unions and the other side of the political aisle, the White House may ease up on that plan—a move that will sure to draw the ire of EV proponents and anyone sounding the alarm over global warming. 

This report comes from the New York Times, citing three unnamed officials said to be familiar with the plan. The exact details of this plan are not known, except that a "sharp increase" in EV sales would not be required "until after 2030."

The new EPA rules are expected to be finalized this spring, the Times reports. 

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America's EV ramp-up hasn't been easy

The race to go all-electric across the globe is pushed by emissions regulations designed to fight climate change. But car dealers, automakers and even owners have often struggled to adapt, even as sales hit new records.

If so, the move could have profound effects on the future of the EV industry, America's ability to compete against a rising electric China, and a signature Biden policy achievement as he faces a tough reelection battle. 

From the Times:

The E.P.A. designed the proposed regulations so that 67 percent of sales of new cars and light-duty trucks would be all-electric by 2032, up from 7.6 percent in 2023, a radical remaking of the American automobile market.

That remains the goal. But as they finalize the regulations, administration officials are tweaking the plan to slow the pace at which auto manufacturers would need to comply, so that electric vehicle sales would increase more gradually through 2030 but then would have to sharply rise.

The change in pacing is in response to automakers who say that more time is needed to build a national network of charging stations and to bring down the cost of electric vehicles, and to labor unions that want more time to try to unionize new electric car plants that are opening around the country, particularly in the South.

Last year was a landmark one for EV sales, with all-electric cars making up 7.6% of the market and record sales from every brand. But the rate of EV adoption slowed down toward the end of the year, moving less quickly than the industry anticipated. The so-called "EV slowdown" is often overblown, but the transition has been hampered by combatant car dealers, a largely inadequate public charging network, intense political opposition and concerns about how the cars operate differently than gas-powered ones. 

The transition to EVs has been especially fraught for automakers, who are spending immense amounts of capital to pivot to battery-powered and software-driven cars—and even for the EV startups that face their own challenges. Moreover, many analysts and industry officials have said EVs haven't yet had the "breakthrough" moment that will allow them to become cheaper to buy, while driving further, to meet more Americans' needs. 

But if the Biden Administration does in fact back off its 2030 targets, it raises serious questions about the future of an industry undergoing its biggest transformation since the creation of the assembly line. (Former President Donald Trump, Biden's likely opponent in November, has vowed to undo those regulations entirely and told EV supporters they can "rot in hell" last Christmas.)

Countless EV plants, battery factories and equipment manufacturing hubs either have been built or are being built to meet this electric future—worth some 200,000 new jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in investments. While those certainly aren't going to evaporate, uncertainty about an EV future isn't great for them. 

Furthermore, the Chinese automakers are seen as an existential threat to every other established car company; even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has sounded the alarm there. Those automakers, led by BYD, have developed highly advanced and low-cost EVs, and many are getting ready to move into the U.S. market via Mexican factories unless new restrictions somehow keep them out. Giving automakers a pass, essentially, to "slow down" on EVs raises serious questions about their ability to compete against China long-term. 

Finally, there's the climate question.

The race to electrify America's auto market has been a key component of the Biden Administration's goal of cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and eliminating them by 2050. Nearly all experts say that dialing back zero-emission cars will continue to lead to the most drastic and damaging effects of global warming, something echoed by the Times today: 

Postponing the sharp increase in electric vehicle sales until after 2030 would still eliminate roughly the same amount of auto emissions as the original proposal by 2055, according to E.P.A. models. But it would mean the nation would continue to pump auto emissions into the atmosphere in the short run. Scientists say every year counts in the government’s efforts to prevent the planet from tipping into more deadly and costly climate disasters.

“You’ll have faster warming if U.S. transportation emissions don’t decline before 2030,” said James Glynn, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Scientists have warned that if average global temperatures increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels, humans would struggle to adapt to increasingly violent storms, floods, fires, heat waves and other disruptions.

But if the Biden Administration does agree to dial back its EV goals, they key questions will be: by how much, and to do what instead? How the auto industry responds to all of that will be key to its future—and in part, to the planet's future as well. 

Contact the author: patrick.george@insideevs.com

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