WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate's passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill last week that includes billions in funding for electric vehicle charging stations represents a key stepping stone for the industry as automakers strive to reach greater EV sales targets by the end of the decade.
President Joe Biden's industry-supported target of having half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. be emissions-free in 2030 — bolstered by proposed rules for more stringent fuel-efficiency and emissions standards — could be a catalyst for the industry's EV transformation.
John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, said it will require a comprehensive national strategy that includes supportive policies, public and private investment, and broad-based incentives.
"The necessary complementary policy measures are important," said Bozzella, whose group represents most major automakers in the U.S. "When you think about the enormity of this transformation, and you think about where we are in the process ... we've got a lot of work to do collectively."
Bozzella, 59, spoke with Staff Reporter Audrey LaForest about what it will take to meet the White House's voluntary sales goal for zero-emission vehicles and to encourage the widespread adoption of EVs in the U.S. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: Is Biden's ambitious 2030 ZEV target feasible?
A: It is an extraordinarily ambitious goal. There's no question about it. It requires not only a transformation of the new-vehicle market, but it also requires a transformation of the automotive manufacturing process as well as supply chains. It's going to require stakeholders across the U.S. economy as well as strong partnerships between government policymakers at the state and federal level as well as automakers.
The Senate bill slashed the funding for EV charging infrastructure to $7.5 billion. How does that affect the industry's aspirations?
The bipartisan infrastructure bill represents a strong and important first step in the process. More collaboration, more investment — both private and public — will be required to ensure the appropriate level of charging density to support the millions of vehicles that will be on the road by the end of the decade. What we really need is a comprehensive national strategy to ensure that we are on track and, of course, the auto industry is all in. By 2025, we will have invested $330 billion across the industry as a whole. Even in Washington, that's real money.
Do you think policies designed to support a transition to EVs and address climate change are contingent on who holds office and which party controls Congress?
This transformation is, of course, about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the EV transformation is also about controlling our economic destiny in the U.S. When you think about the competition that's taking place across the globe in auto-producing regions, it's really important to the future of the auto industry and to the future of the American worker that we get this right. There are, in those arguments, opportunities for both parties to come together around this comprehensive national strategy. It is not just about climate, as important as that is. It is also about our economic security.
The Biden administration, thus far, has resisted mandating an end to sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles. Would the alliance support a ZEV mandate?
We fully expect and plan to work with the Biden administration on rules affecting model years beyond 2026, and we're engaged with California and other states about what future regulations look like.
We're going to continue to engage with the regulators, and that's going to be important going forward. It's too soon to say what those rules look like. There's much more work to be done there. I will say this: It is absolutely essential, however, that we continue to focus on supportive policy in the areas of incentives and infrastructure and the industrial transformation to make this work.
Rules by themselves will not be enough to drive this transformation in a way that benefits everybody and that gets us where we want to go.
Congress has turned to the $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which is likely going to include tax incentives for consumers who are purchasing EVs. What policies would you consider a deal breaker?
We're very heavily engaged with members of Congress on the development of consumer incentives for the purchases of EVs.
I can't think of a policy measure that is more effective in building access and awareness for these technologies in the consumer base. Keep in mind: We can't get there without the consumer. The success of this bold challenge really begins and ends with the consumer, and so providing incentives is going to be really important.
The bottom line here is that as Congress works on this, there are a number of ways to do this, but let's recognize how far we need to go and make sure that we've got programs that are simple, that are accessible to consumers broadly and that are available in communities across the country.
What about Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow's proposal to provide additional tax credits for EVs made in the U.S. and assembled by union workers. Is this a concern?
We are believers in broad-based incentives that support EV purchases in every segment, across a broad consumer base and are available to everybody. That's important. We're at 2 percent. If we're going to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 percent by the end of the decade, it's going to take a significant effort. We do think that incentives ought to be broadly available. We recognize that members of Congress are going to need to balance a lot of different questions and needs as they work through this. We're going to make sure that we're engaged with them constructively to see this through. The most important aspect of this is that there is a debate and that there is momentum and that there is focus on the need for consumer incentives. That's, by far, the most important thing. We'll continue to work to make sure that they are available as broadly as can possibly be applied.