President Biden this morning signed an executive order to make 50% of new vehicles sold by 2030 zero-emission. 

Behind that, the automakers provided a backdrop statement then appeared to undercut the order itself. In coordination with the announcement, Ford, GM, and Stellantis (the parent of Chrysler) expressed a “shared aspiration” to achieve 40% EVs by 2030—with EVs in their definition including battery electric, hydrogen fuel-cell, and plug-in hybrid vehicles. 

Actual compliance details for the standards, widely anticipated for weeks, still weren’t released at the time of writing this morning. Instead of picking up where the Obama rules left off, they’re expected to essentially build on a compromise worked out between California and a series of automakers starting in 2019.

Covering model years 2023 through 2026 and extending potentially to 2031, they'll bring the national fleet closer to the targets previously followed by the Obama administration, but it depends largely on some of the compliance particulars and credit framework as to whether the Biden rules might be more stringent in actual application or not. 

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV

“Auto manufacturers are committed to a net-zero carbon transportation future, and we look forward to working with the Administration as we evaluate EPA’s proposed changes to light-duty vehicle standards for Model Years 2023-2026," said John Bozzella, President and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing most automakers.

The coordinated announcement with automakers also appeared to be a necessary step, as much of electric-vehicle and green-energy emphasis expected in the infrastructure bill moving through Congress has been dropped. The President’s order expressed the importance of additional point-of-sale incentives and EV charging stations. 

Weaker so-called SAFE standards for fleet emissions and fuel economy under the Trump administration, limited to a fleet improvement of just 1.5%, will have slowed such progress for the 2021 and 2022 model years. The Obama standards, which had targeted a 5% annual improvement, had been amounting to about a 3.7% annual improvement when considering the changing vehicle mix from cars to trucks. 

2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

In keeping with Biden’s way of conducting politics, the all-inclusive rules have included recommendations from automakers, the UAW, and environmental groups—with one noteworthy exception, perhaps. 

On Wednesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the White House excluded the all-electric automaker, which has sold the majority of electric vehicles in recent years. According to 2018 data from IHS Markit, Tesla employed more than 20,000 and indirectly employed more than 31,000—not counting the Nevada Gigafactory. Its Texas factory is expected to add 5,000 direct jobs and about 4,000 indirect jobs.

“A strong vision from President Biden, along with these significant investments, will help ensure lots of high-paying manufacturing jobs here in America to produce zero-emitting vehicles—vehicles that will then save their owners thousands of dollars on gas,” said Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund. 

“California applauds the Biden Administration’s move to boldly reduce climate pollution from cars, inspired by California’s nation-leading framework," said California Governor Gavin Newsom. "The climate emergency demands no less."

So far, according to EDF, Ford, GM, and Chrysler’s parent company Stellantis have pledged about $100 billion in spending on commitments relating to zero-emissions vehicles. Tesla and Nissan will continue to assemble electric vehicles in the U.S., and Volkswagen, Volvo, and Hyundai/Kia are expected to ramp up EV manufacture in the U.S. within the next two years. 

That said, there's an astonishingly wide variation among individual automaker targets for the U.S. market. Volvo and GM's Cadillac are among a growing legion of brands due to go all-EV by 2030, while Toyota expects that battery electric and fuel-cell models will make up just 15% of the mix by 2030. Ford and Honda represent an optimistic middle ground, with Ford expecting a mix not far behind the 40% global BEV target and Honda working toward 40% battery electric and fuel-cell models by 2030.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E

In 2027, according to a January EDF study, it will save a consumer who buys an EV $5,300 over the vehicle’s lifetime versus gasoline. Biden has emphasized all along that the benefits of a shift to electric vehicles will lead to good jobs for Americans, lower operating costs, and a healthier environment. 

Environmental groups had been set up for some level of disappointment, and over the past week several groups spelled out why the new rules need to be tougher than the Obama trajectory to make up for the Trump rollback. 

“Looking ahead to the next set of standards, anything that falls short of ensuring a 60% reduction in emissions and a clear trajectory to 100% electric vehicle sales by 2035 at the absolute latest represents an enormous missed opportunity,” said Carol Lee Rawn, the senior director of transportation at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres. 

Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and the Biden administration holds a goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.