Inside the Republican attacks on electric vehicles


Electric vehicles, a significant achievement in automotive technology, have entered this year's presidential election, igniting the partisan fights that have come to define American culture.

One reason is that President Biden has made electric vehicles central to his strategy to combat climate change. This week, his administration announced the most ambitious climate regulation in the country's history: a measure designed to accelerate the transition toward electric vehicles and away from gasoline-powered cars that are a major driver of global warming. There are reasons.

The political war over electric vehicles has been fueled by a mix of issues: technological change, the future of the oil and gas industry, concerns about competition from China and America's love of motorized muscle. And in rural areas of America, where few public charging stations exist, the notion of an all-electric future seems utopian — another element of the urban-rural divide that underlies the country's polarization.

Mr Biden's opponent, former President Donald J. Trump has stepped up attacks on electric vehicles and the new regulation in particular for months, calling the rule a ban on gasoline-powered cars and claiming that electric cars will “kill” America's auto industry. , He has called this “murder” of jobs. He has declared that the Biden administration “ordered a hit job on Michigan manufacturing” by encouraging the sales of electric cars.

Within minutes of the new rule being announced this week, similar — though not as violent — flooded the Republican ecosystem.

“The Biden administration is making decisions for Americans about what types of cars they are allowed to buy, rent and drive,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment Committee, said in comments that took place at the Capitol. And on Fox News. A Fox News headline falsely claimed “Biden has mandated production of electric vehicles.”

In many ways, Mr. Biden's new rules on auto pollution combine the elements conservatives love to hate: government regulations and the perception that Democrats want to force Americans to give up comfort in the name of the environment.

Over the past few years, Mr. Trump has intensified Republican opposition to environmental regulations by attacking everything from non-aerosol hair spray to low-flow toilets. he has assaulted energy-efficient dishwasherLED lightbulbs and wind turbines were falsely claimed to cause cancer.

While presenting his EV policies to Americans, Mr. Biden has tried to present himself as a “car guy,” talking about his upbringing as the son of a car dealer and Ford- Tested 150 Electric Pickup Trucks and Said “It Sucks!” He was the first president to join auto workers on the picket line.

Still, policy analysts say Mr. Trump's attacks on the government's efforts to clean up cars are likely to have an impact on voters.

“When you get into private vehicles, you're touching a large portion of the United States,” said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. “Most Americans have little or no knowledge about EVs. When you get into the questions of what you drive, how you drive it, how reliable it is and what it says about your identity – right here “Cultural wars emerge.”

Analysts said this is particularly the case given the false claim that the new rule is a “ban” on conventional cars.

EPA regulation has no restrictions. Rather, it requires carmakers to meet tough new average emissions limits across their entire product line, starting in model year 2027 and extending through 2032. Automakers can comply with emissions caps by selling gasoline-burning cars, hybrids, EVs or a mix of them. Other types of vehicles, such as cars powered by hydrogen.

The EPA estimates that compliance with the rule will mean that by 2032, about 56 percent of new passenger vehicles sold will be electric and another 16 percent will be hybrid. Car companies that flout the new restrictions could face heavy fines. The new standards will not apply to the used car market.

Cars and other forms of transportation are the largest single source of carbon emissions produced by the United States, pollution that is exacerbating climate change and which helped make 2023 the hottest year in recorded history.

According to the EPA, the new limits on tailpipe emissions would avoid more than seven billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years. This is equivalent to removing one year's worth of all the greenhouse gases produced by the United States. Historically most carbon dioxide has been pumped into the atmosphere.

According to the agency, it would also provide an annual net benefit to society of approximately $100 billion, including $13 billion annually in public health benefits such as avoided hospitalizations and reduced premature deaths due to improved air quality. Are.

The EPA estimates this will save the average American driver approximately $6,000 in reduced fuel and maintenance over the lifetime of the vehicle.

The country's major car companies, after securing some concessions from the administration, have reluctantly accepted the new rules in the form of a more gradual compliance schedule, pushing back the most stringent requirements until after 2030.

“The future is electric,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents 42 car companies that produce nearly all new vehicles sold in the United States, in a statement this week. He said the rules “take into account the importance of drivers' choice and preserve their ability to choose the vehicle that is right for them.”

But other industries affected by the rule have launched attacks — particularly oil and gas companies that see the rise of electric vehicles as an existential threat.

The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a lobbying organization, has launched a “seven points” campaign of ads, phone calls and text messages against “Biden's EPA car ban” in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Washington. In the Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona, as well as Ohio, Montana and Washington, DC, markets.

More than 4,000 of the country's 18,000 car dealerships are also fighting the rule, writing to Mr Biden urging him to “put the brakes” on the rule. Auto dealers — business owners embedded in communities who interact directly with motorists as they choose what to drive — could be particularly persuasive to voters, analysts said.

“It's really surprising that it reached our throats,” said Duane Wilkes, chief financial officer of Berge Auto Group in Arizona, which has six dealerships in Phoenix and Tucson that sell vehicles made by Toyota, Lexus, Ford, Volkswagen and Are.” Mazda.

“What we sell is not determined by us, it's determined by the customer by what they actually want to buy,” Mr. Wilkes said. “And the EVs are just sitting on the lot.”

In the Phoenix metro area, electric vehicles accounted for 11.6 percent of new car registrations last year. “This is trying to get out the vote,” said Mr. Wilkes, who described himself as an independent voter. “It will not be mine. “They want to implement a change that I don’t think the average American is ready for.”

He added, “We have potential in the game and this is a direct hit to our profitability and perhaps even our survival in some cases.”

And yet, electric vehicles are the fastest-growing segment of the auto industry. Sales of electric vehicles, trucks and SUVs reached record levels last year, reaching 1.2 million for the first time, bringing electric vehicles' share of new auto registrations in the United States vehicle market to 8.5 percent. Analysts have said that although growth is slowing, another record is expected this year.

But the pace is not happening everywhere. In California, which leads the nation in the number of charging stations, 40 percent of new cars registered in San Jose last year were electric. But their share was only 3 percent in Detroit, the nation's automobile capital, and even less in Buffalo and Bismarck, N.D.

Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist and energy lobbyist who worked in the Trump White House, said a Republican survey found attacking electric vehicle mandates a “surprising” issue for the party. He called Mr. Biden’s regulation a “shadow ban” on gas-powered vehicles. “If you make something unavailable it's the same as banning it,” he said.

“This is a solid second-tier issue for obvious reasons, with particular prominence in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio,” Mr. McKenna said, referring to swing states that Mr. Biden is expected to win. “Are people going to vote on this? This probably won't be their main driver. But will this be a matter of secondary confirmation? Yes.”

Stephen Hankin, a Democratic strategist and founder of Lincoln Park Strategies, who has warned the party about “putting too much pressure on voters” on electric vehicles, said he believed the car rule would help Mr Biden .

“This is not a ban, and that's encouraging,” Mr. Hankin said, adding that the rule “sends a signal to environmentally conscious voters and young voters, which the Biden campaign is certainly interested in.”

A 2023 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that half of American adults and 70 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters said they would not consider purchasing an electric vehicle as their next car. In the same survey, 56 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning people said they would consider buying an EV

Veteran Republican activist Mike Murphy saw a similar partisan divide in a survey conducted in November by the EV Politics Project, an advocacy group he founded.

“This is a tribal issue,” said Mr. Murphy, who has worked for Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and other moderate Republicans. Mr Murphy, a fan of electric vehicles, founded the EV Politics Project to stop Republicans from attacking them – a lonely struggle.

“If you Republicans can't solve the problem you have no way to reach these goals,” Mr. Murphy said, referring to the EPA's emissions targets. “They're going to run out of Democrats.”

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, who makes half of electric vehicle sales in the United States, has aligned himself with a number of far-right views, leading analysts to wonder whether he is conservative about cars. Attitudes can change. “Republicans can soften the blow if they want to,” Mr. Murphy said. But there is little evidence of this happening.

Republicans and Mr Trump have argued that electric vehicles help America's economic rival China, because minerals vital to battery manufacturing such as graphite and manganese are often produced in China.

Mr Trump's opposition to electric vehicles has created a dilemma for political leaders in several Republican-led states, where new electric vehicles and battery plants are being built thanks to federal incentives overseen by the Biden administration.

South Carolina's Republican governor, Henry McMaster, was asked about that dilemma during a ceremony in February marking the groundbreaking of a $2 billion plant to build electric pickups and off-road vehicles under the Scout brand. The factory is expected to create around 4,000 jobs.

Governor McMaster stressed that Mr. Trump is not against electric vehicles.

“President Trump, like most people, is opposed to the mandate – the federal mandate,” Gov. McMaster told reporters. “We understand that electric vehicles are a part of South Carolina’s future. “We are following the market.”

The political and social messages consumers receive about EVs could significantly shape the success of the new regulation, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with the Auto Intelligence Service at S&P Global Mobility. This is because the rules largely depend on whether motorists buy clean cars or not.

“This is part of the wild card about consumers,” Ms. Brinley said. “It is an emotional thing. This reflects the either/or mentality that dominates social media. This may affect how fast or slow the infection progresses.

jonathan weizman Contributed to the reporting.


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