Taking A Look At Biden’s Climate Plan For Cars And Trucks

Originally published on Forbes.com on December 19, 2020


President-Elect Biden plans to boost electric vehicles and charging stations across the country.

President-Elect Joe Biden has unveiled a plan for building a modern sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future. It’s a vision based largely on the assumption of a massive wave of investment in electric vehicles. But Biden is not just dreaming, he intends to act:

“Biden also plans to invest big in carbon-free public transport and will aim to provide all cities of more than 100,000 people with quality public transportation by 2030. And also to invest in building electric vehicles with sufficient charging stations across the country — he will create 1 million new jobs in auto manufacturing, auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure .” 

He’s going to be busy turning vast fleets of government vehicles electric, and installing 400,000 charging stations across the country. To think the U.S. now only has 150,000 gasoline stations.

If all goes according to plan, we could be looking at a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation in the U.S. is petroleum-based and contributes 28% of all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (2018 data) – larger than electricity (27%), industry (22%) and commercial and residential (12%). If the U.S. could take a big bite out of petroleum-based transportation, that would go a long way towards reducing GHG emissions.

Cars and trucks contribute 82% of transportation GHG emissions in the US (Figure 1) where there are almost 300 million cars driving around.

2018 US Transportation Emission pie chart


Figure 1: GHG emissions by source in US transportation sector. Cars 59%, Trucks 23%, Aircraft 9%, … [+]

Cars have started going electrical, but plug-ins are less than 2% of all US cars on the road (2.2% globally), and widespread adoption will be dubious if charging stations are not built quickly enough.

Auto manufacturers are reorienting. By 2025, thirty models of electric cars and electric trucks will be available from GM according to Mary Barra, CEO. They will include an SUV and an electric pickup, as well as a hummer electric sport utility by late 2021. “Climate change is real, and we want to be part of the solution,” Barra said.

Projected uptake of electric vehicles as a percentage of sales, by country.


Figure 2. Projected uptake of electric vehicles as a percentage of sales, by country.

Driving change: Norway versus the US

But let’s see how the US is progressing compared with other countries. Figure 2 reveals projected sales of electric vehicles versus year for different countries. Norway (top curve) is the leader by far, with right now over 50% of new vehicle sales being EVs. But the US is near the bottom.

Note that the modeling assumes a saturation level of 65% sales, which may reflect the difficulty of ever getting to 100% in a reasonable time-scale.  

The secret to accelerate uptake of EVs is to make them cheap enough. Norway lowered taxes in EVs to keep the price down, and even exempted road tolls, as an incentive. The opposite approach would be to raise taxes on traditional cars – a kind of pollution tax.

What else can be learned from Norway? EVs in Norway are a diverse group, and there are also established electric buses, trams and trains. The Nissan Leaf, an unpretentious little car, is the best seller. But not so in the US where Tesla models are a clear winner with total 71,000 sales (data from first half of 2020). Chevy Bolt has about 8,000 and Nissan Leaf 3,000.

Costs come into the EV uptake of course, but if the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 is deducted, an EV may not cost much more than a gasoline counterpart. Tesla Model 3 prices are $38,000 – $55,000.

So, given the Biden Administration’s will to boost EV fortunes, we can expect Biden to push for generous incentives on EVs alongside a rollback of Trump’s rollback (to 40 mpg) of Obama’s fuel economy standards (54.5 mpg). California, naturally, is in the middle of this with its own goal of lowering greenhouse gases. Despite clashes with the Trump administration, they have reached a deal with five car makers that is only slightly less strict than the Obama plan. Looking beyond 2025, Governor Gavin Newsom has stated he will ban all sales of new gasoline vehicles by 2035.

Pickup and semi-trailer goals

Electrifying trucks is also important because they contribute 23% of GHG emissions (Figure 1).

Tesla of course is the most famous brand. In the Tesla factory is the Cybertruck, where the single-motor version looks like a stylistic pickup, billed to come out in 2021 with a starting price of $40,000. Dual-motor (300 mile range) and tri-motor versions (500 miles) will be available too, starting at $50,000.

In June of 2020 over 650,000 pre-orders were reported, but about 80% of the orders were for the dual-and tri-motor versions. Making enough batteries might be a challenge.

The long-haul semi-trailers are another step up. With 4 independent motors on rear axles, the Tesla Semi TSLA -5.5% is aiming for an acceleration of 0-60 mph in 20 seconds, for a fully-loaded vehicle. Costs for the Tesla Semi will be $150,000 for a range of 300 miles and $180,000 for a range of 500 miles.

One observer has said the most expensive part of the Semi will be the battery at $100,000. The most tantalizing number that Tesla offers is $200,000+ for fuel savings between diesel and electric power.

Another part of the visionary concept is auto-pilot technology that will enable the Semi to switch lanes and exit from freeways without driver control. Plus a network of “megachargers” – powered by solar – need to be placed across the country. 

Other than Tesla, is there any other progress in this arena? Yes – In a remarkable time warp, electrified long-haul semi-trailers have already hit the road. Little-known Thomas Healey, 28, of Hyliion has 20 such electric trucks cruising the highways.

Effect on oil and gas industry.

The future of the oil and gas industry is being debated strongly. For oil and gas companies, the electric vehicle revolution obviously means less need for at-the-pump gasoline or diesel, which come from drilling for oil.

But the global transition from fossil energy to renewable energy will be delayed – by decades rather than years. One reason is the starting point: in the US for example, less than 2% of plug-ins are on the road today, and the US is lagging behind many other countries. A second reason is uptake inertia: people unable to afford or unwilling to buy a new electric car. Long-haul trucks are starting from essentially 0% in their transition away from diesel, and the timing is much longer for them.

One global prediction, by DNV-GL, an independent expert that consults with both oil and gas and renewable industries, is that half of the passenger vehicles sold worldwide will be EVs by 2032, and 90% by 2050. But decarbonizing long-haul trucks pose more of a challenge than cars, and aviation and shipping much more.

Oil and gas will still account for 46% of the total energy mix in 2050, according to DNV-GL. This is not inconsistent with 36% predicted by 2050 in BP’s aggressive case of Figure 1 of my previous post.

The US will continue to produce oil and gas through 2050, although in declining amounts. The DNV-GL global forecast is that renewables will account for only 62% of electric power generation by 2050, and refining oil for trucks, planes and ships will extend beyond 2050.

But this is why the term net-zero is used when speaking of GHG emissions by 2050. Some, or maybe a lot, of the excess GHG from burning fossil fuels looks like it could be captured and stored (CCS/CCUS) deep underground, and schemes like this would be needed to restore the GHG balance to net-zero by 2050.


Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x