California's two Senators are pushing the Biden Administration to set a date after which automakers would no longer be allowed to sell gasoline-powered cars anywhere in the United States.
The letter sent Monday by Sens. Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla to President Joseph Biden urges him to "follow California's lead and set a date by which all new cars and passenger trucks sold be zero-emission vehicles."
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in September requiring that all new passenger cars and trucks sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles by 2035.
Today, electric vehicles make up less than 3% of US vehicle sales, far lower than some other countries — most notably Norway, where more than half of cars sold last year were electric vehicles. Even without a requirement, EVs could make up the same share of US car sales by 2035, according to some industry forecasts.
Automakers are in the process of offering a far greater selection of electric vehicles to comply with tougher environmental regulations around the world and to meet growing customer demand for EVs. They also aim to save costs, since EVs have fewer moving parts and require fewer hours of labor to assemble than traditional internal combustion engine vehicles.
The industry plans to invest $250 billion in vehicle electrification over the course of the next three years, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry trade group. Asked about the senators' calls for a firm deadline to require only emission-free vehicles, the trade group said it supports working with the Biden administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and "build a robust market for electric vehicles, and resolve on-going litigation."
Plans already in place
Some leading automakers have announced plans far more ambitious than those proposed by the industry trade group.
General Motors said recently that it has an "aspiration" to sell only emission-free cars by 2035. Ford is also seeking to shift its car models in Europe to pure electrics by 2030, although it expects to continue to sell gasoline powered trucks and vans after that date in Europe. It has yet to set any time frame for when it expects to sell only electric vehicles in the US market.
"Proposals to encourage the production of zero-emissions vehicles underscore the kind of conversations we need to have," said a statement from Ford.
The senators said the Biden administration should push the auto industry to commit to a hard shift to electric vehicles.
"The automobile industry has shown it has the ingenuity and resources to reimagine our transportation systems in consumer-friendly ways," said the senators in their letter to Biden. "We urge your administration to take advantage of this effort and make real progress in coordination with states, like California, that share your goals to aggressively fight climate change by eliminating harmful pollution from the transportation sector,"
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the senators' letter. The Environmental Protection Agency said that it supports taking steps to reduce vehicle emissions even if, like the auto industry's trade group, it stopped short of endorsing a firm requirement for electric vehicles.
New tougher emissions rules "will play an important role in confronting climate change and advancing economic and employment opportunities," said the EPA in a statement. "EPA is working with the Department of Transportation, California and other states, the automobile industry, labor, and other stakeholders to consider a range of views on how to set ambitious [emissions] standards."
Among other actions taken so far by the new administration on reducing emissions, Biden signed an executive order on January 27 promising to buy zero-emission vehicles for the federal government, including vehicles for the US Postal Service, which is in the process of developing a next generation of delivery vehicles.
California only has one auto assembly plant, the former GM-Toyota plant in Fremont, California, near San Francisco that is now operated by electric carmaker Tesla. Tesla is also the world's leading maker of electric cars, having sold 500,000 worldwide last year.
California has been a leader in setting tougher environmental rules on vehicle emissions than the federal government, and a dozen states have followed its lead. The Trump administration went to court to challenge its power to set those tougher standards. The auto industry has argued what was most important was a single set of rules for the whole country. Several automakers, including Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW, reached a deal with California saying they would comply with tougher regulations than prescribed by the EPA.
The California senators said that "at an absolute minimum" the new federal regulations should follow the agreement between California and those automakers. They are also seeking to once again grant California the right to set tougher emissions rules than set by the EPA.
Most other traditional automakers agreed with the Trump administration's efforts to strip California of its right to set its own standard, although GM dropped its support of that effort soon after the general election.