WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Joe Biden, flanked outside the White House by executives from Detroit’s major automakers, announced a national goal of having half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. be emissions-free by the end of the decade.
“The future of the American auto industry is electric,” Biden said Thursday. “It is electric; there’s no turning back.”
Biden's goal, which is not legally binding, won the support of major U.S. and foreign automakers who warned it would require billions of dollars in government funding.
General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler-parent Stellantis confirmed in a joint statement that they aspire "to achieve sales of 40-50 percent of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles... by 2030."
Joining Biden at the White House Thursday were GM CEO Mary Barra, Ford CEO Jim Farley and Mark Stewart, COO of North America for Stellantis.
Several electric vehicles were arrayed behind Biden as he spoke, including the Ford F-150 Lightning, Chevrolet Bolt, Jeep Wrangler Limited Rubicon 4xE, GMC Hummer EV and Ford E Transit Van.
“I have a commitment from Mary when they make the first electric Corvette, I get to be the first person to drive it,” said Biden, the longtime owner of a 1967 Corvette Stingray, referring to GM CEO Mary Barra.
Biden's 50 percent goal and the automakers' 40-50 percent aspiration includes battery electric, fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles that also have a gasoline engine.
Biden has repeatedly resisted calls from many Democrats to set a binding requirement for EV adoption or to follow California and some countries in setting 2035 as a date to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered light duty vehicles in the face of opposition by the UAW.
"We have got to act," U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a CNBC interview before the president's official announcement. "This goal of getting half of our new vehicles to be electric within the decade is going to be urgently needed for us to meet the imperative of climate in our time."
UAW President Ray Curry noted the EV goal but said "the UAW focus is not on hard deadlines or percentages, but on preserving the wages and benefits that have been the heart and soul of the American middle class."
"We must be ambitious not just about retaining good union jobs, but growing them, and about expanding U.S. manufacturing of electric vehicles, from parts to assembly," the UAW statement said. "It is incumbent that these future jobs will be good-paying American union scale wage and benefit jobs that protect salaries and our critical health and safety standards."
Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, whose company makes only electric vehicles, tweeted early on Thursday: "Seems odd that Tesla wasn’t invited."
The White House explained that the invited manufacturers are the biggest employers of UAW members.
“We of course welcome the efforts of all automakers who recognize the potential of an electric future and support efforts that will help reach President Biden’s goal, including the automakers who are committed to electrifying their fleet and reducing emissions,” the White House said in a statement.