On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that by 2030, half of all new cars and light trucks should be zero-emissions vehicles—a mix of battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid EVs, and hydrogen fuel cell EVs. But the White House still sees a future for burning hydrocarbons, as the executive order will also develop new long-term fuel-efficiency standards, and there is no mention of phasing out internal combustion engines for new vehicles at any point in the future.
Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are expected to announce new fuel-efficiency rules through model year 2026. The US had a relatively ambitious goal of reaching a corporate average fuel economy target of 54 mpg (4.3 l/100 km) in 2025 under President Obama, but President Trump took a wrecking ball to that plan in 2020.
The EPA and NHTSA will likely adopt the framework recently put together by California’s Air Resources Board and BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen Group, and Volvo. The plan would reduce emissions from new vehicles by 17 percent by MY2026.
“Together, today’s announcements would put us on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger vehicle sales by more than 60 percent in 2030 compared to vehicles sold last year and facilitate achieving the president’s goal of 50-52 percent net economy-wide greenhouse gas emission reductions below 2005 levels in 2030,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House’s plan is less ambitious than that of the European Union, which has already said that 55 percent of vehicles must be zero-emissions in 2030, increasing to 100 percent of all new passenger vehicles by 2035. It’s also less ambitious than China’s plans, even though losing competitiveness to China is frequently referenced in the White House statement. It’s definitely less ambitious than the UK strategy, which phases out new internal combustion engine vehicles in 2030. (As with fuel efficiency standards, California again leads the federal government in action, having declared 2035 as the year it will no longer allow sales of new gasoline or diesel cars and light trucks.)
The question of whether any of these requirements will even be implemented also remains. As already noted, four years of inaction and stalling by the previous administration—not to mention heavy lobbying against stricter efficiency standards by General Motors, Stellantis, and Toyota—have set back US decarbonization efforts heavily compared to Europe and China; there’s little reason to believe a change in control of Congress or the White House would result in a different outcome in the next few years.