President Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion package to boost the economy and rebuild American infrastructure, including $174 billion to help electrify the American car market. There weren’t a lot of specifics, except that Biden said he wanted to build a network of 500,000 chargers across the country. But an industry letter earlier this week can help us fill in some of the details.
The letter was sent on Monday to Biden by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group that represents just about every automaker operating in the U.S. today. It is one of the clearer signals yet that automakers are committed to an electric future, or at least know that it is happening with or without them.
The letter includes some obvious suggestions, like increasing subsidies for electric vehicles, including the big one already on the books, known as 30D, along with some less obvious things, like providing incentives for people to install Level 2 car chargers at home and at apartment buildings.
“We stand ready to work with your Administration to define the bold, comprehensive vision and innovation that will place the U.S. at the forefront of creating a cleaner future for motor vehicle transportation,” the group says in the letter, co-signed by the UAW. “This transformation is greater than any one policy, branch or level of government, or industry sector. It will require a sustained holistic approach with a broad range of legislative and regulatory policies rooted in economic, social, environmental, and cultural realities.”
Two of the priorities in the section of the letter about consumers: more subsidies, and also electrifying the federal fleet, which the group says would help people simply get more familiar with the idea of an EV.
Address the cost premium and directly support sales of EVs by expanding and extending the 30D Federal Tax Credit for PHEVs and BEVs and enacting a long-term extension of the 30B Fuel Cell Motor Vehicle Tax Credit to help equalize the upfront cost to consumers
Set ambitious federal fleet requirements to adopt EVs, which helps to increase consumer awareness by putting more vehicles on the road and provides more consumers, such as federal employees, with EV driving experience.
You might think, like I initially did, that subsidies for EVs might be where the ask stops, except the letter goes on to talk about the real problem with EVs in America — not their initial price, really, but just how shitty America’s charging infrastructure really is. It’s not, exactly, that automakers are resistant to EVs, even if that has been the prevailing wisdom; it’s more that they know as well as anyone that the transition to EVs will be a massive job.
While public DC fast charging stations or other public chargers could meet some needs, the convenience of refueling at home is a key advantage of EVs, and it would be unreasonable and unequitable to expect renters and MUD residents to pay more and spend time away from home each week to charge publicly. Numerous studies show that the cost to retrofit a home or business with EV charging equipment is several times more expensive than installing it during new construction, so designing EV-ready building codes must be part of the answer. Supporting charger installation at apartment complexes or renter-occupied housing that already exists will be necessary, too. Public policies will need to account for this and find ways to support installation of charging options that serve all drivers. All stakeholders must work together on public policy efforts, such as federal tax incentives, grants, rebates and other mechanisms to spur significant refueling infrastructure development in three key areas: homes, workplaces, and highway and other public locations—especially since currently there are only approximately 100,000 public charging outlets nationwide, and only about 18,000 of these are DC fast chargers capable of rapid fill-ups.
Biden’s plan isn’t even a bill in Congress yet, so you can expect lots of things to be up for grabs until then, but the outlines of the plan, released yesterday, hit a lot of the same marks as the industry group did earlier this week, and are likely to stay broadly the same. but since this is Washington, you can also safely assume that the DC-based Alliance for Automotive Innovation will have a fair amount of sway in the final product. I can’t even imagine the number of lobbyists involved.
Here’s what Biden’s plan says for now:
His plan will enable automakers to spur domestic supply chains from raw materials to parts, retool factories to compete globally, and support American workers to make batteries and EVs. It will give consumers point of sale rebates and tax incentives to buy American-made EVs, while ensuring that these vehicles are affordable for all families and manufactured by workers with good jobs. It will establish grant and incentive programs for state and local governments and the private sector to build a national network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030, while promoting strong labor, training, and installation standards. His plan also will replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrify at least 20 percent of our yellow school bus fleet through a new Clean Buses for Kids Program at the Environmental Protection Agency, with support from the Department of Energy. These investments will set us on a path to 100 percent clean buses, while ensuring that the American workforce is trained to operate and maintain this 21st century infrastructure. Finally, it will utilize the vast tools of federal procurement to electrify the federal fleet, including the United States Postal Service.
That automakers and policymakers are beginning to converge around the same policies to hasten the transition to electric cars would usually give me some pause, but maybe this time everyone knows that it is happening anyway, and better to be at the table than on the outside looking in.