The Chevy Bolt EV
Photo: Paul Sancya (AP)

President Donald Trump has been teasing a super vague threat to end “all” of General Motors’ tax subsidies, in response to the automaker’s plan to cut 14,000 jobs and potentially close four U.S. plants. On Monday, Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow elaborated that the White House would like to happen by 2020 at the earliest. But the administration will need help from Congress to pull that off.

Speaking with reporters on Monday, Kudlow said he “expected” the $7,500 federal tax credit offered to electric vehicle buyers will end in 2020 or 2021, Reuters reported, which added this vague context:

Kudlow said the Trump administration will end other subsidies, including on “renewables.”

I can’t tell you what “other” might entail, but it’s worth underscoring how much this could be a detriment to automakers, almost all of which are rolling out dozens of EVs in the coming months. Next year and 2020 are set to be big ones as EVs come to take up huge parts of car lineups, and automakers were counting on that tax credit to help sell them to new buyers and start getting costs down. 

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But as we noted last week, Trump almost certainly can’t do this on his own, and it seems like Kudlow’s alluding to this reality by suggesting 2020 as a target to wind down the subsidy.

Sure, Trump’s steaming mad about GM’s plan to shutter several factories, but he’d need Congress to pass some sort of legislation to amend the $7,500 tax credit offered by the IRS. While that’s definitely possible, it seems rather unlikely that Congress would craft a revision that targets GM alone.

What’s even more unlikely is that Congress even considers such a significant measure. Automakers like Tesla, Ford, and GM have recently launched an effort to convince Congress to expand the tax credit beyond the current cap of 200,000 vehicles sold. Tesla already hit that mark, and General Motors is fast approaching it, meaning the credit will be cut in half every six months for car buyers, until it disappears entirely.

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Perhaps surprisingly, EVs have support on both sides of the political spectrum. Republican U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch and Dean Heller have proposed raising the 200,000 cap or extending it altogether.

Until Kudlow and Trump actually elaborate on how the White House plans to go about axing the EV tax credit, I’m holding my breath on this coming to fruition. It seems far likelier that Trump and Kudlow are using the vague threat of “ending subsidies” as leverage over GM to retool the impacted factories instead of shutting their doors for good.