To hit Biden’s emissions goals, America needs more EVs — and fast

Electric vehicles made up only 2% of passenger sales in 2020, according to one report.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s calculation of modest gains in carmakers’ fuel economy last year spotlight the need for a rapid increase in electric vehicles if the industry is to meet proposed targets.

The EPA reported Friday that carmakers achieved an average of 25.4 miles per gallon for vehicles made during the 2020 model year. That is 0.5 mpg higher than the 2019 model year and a record high, but far from the 52 mpg by 2026 that President Biden’s administration has proposed, which equates to roughly 41 mpg in real-world driving conditions that typically account for about a 20% drop in fuel economy from the EPA’s ratings.

“Auto companies have made sky-high promises to turn out clean cars, but the EPA’s report shows they have produced very few,” Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Safe Climate Transport Campaign, said in a statement. “Americans can’t drive promises.”

Electric vehicles represented only 2% of passenger sales in 2020, according to an analysis by BloombergNEF.


The chief executives of the world’s biggest automakers gathered with President Obama at the Washington Convention Center in 2011 to announce they had agreed to double the average fuel economy of their vehicles. Then they reversed course.

The EPA’s report projected that plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars are projected to grow from 2% of all production in 2020 to 4% in 2021. The agency said regular hybrids are projected to grow from 5% to 9%.

The Biden administration has set a goal of having half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. to be emissions-free by the end of the decade.

Carmakers say many more electrics are on the way soon.

“We are now expecting to produce 600,000 EVs/yr globally by end of 2023. 2x our original plan,” Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Jim Farley tweeted Thursday.

John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which lobbies for major automakers, said in a statement that the EPA’s report “underscores that the industry has made significant progress in improving fuel economy and reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions, but the standards are becoming increasingly challenging to meet using technology alone.

“That is why policies that support continued innovation in vehicle electrification and other [greenhouse gas]-reducing technologies, and the market for them, are critically important,” Bozzella said.

Biden administration officials have gone much easier on automakers than environmentalists in the hopes of keeping the industry on board with its ambitious electric vehicle targets and more stringent emission rules.

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“Today’s report is a great indicator that automakers are following through with their promise of achieving clean car standards while providing consumers with great vehicle options,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement after the agency’s fuel trends report was released.

Biden raved about General Motors Co.’s new all-electric Hummer after taking a test drive of the vehicle during a trip to Detroit this week.

“That Hummer is one hell of a vehicle, man,” Biden said during a speech at GM’s Factory Zero.

Environmentalists say automakers will have to do more than show off a few spiffy electric-car models to hit Biden’s ambitious emissions targets.

“The auto companies negotiated with the Obama administration and promised to cut emissions 5% a year,” said Becker of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead, the report showed, mileage and pollution improved a scant 1.9% to 25.4 mpg. The atmosphere doesn’t listen to automaker promises. It only knows what cars and trucks emit.”

Katherine García, acting director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement that the EPA’s trends report “reiterates the need for the agency to adopt the strongest possible federal clean car standards to drive the most impactful emissions.”