Jul 24, 2023 - Technology

How Trump could slow the U.S. EV transition

Illustration of Donald Trump tying an EV cord into a knot.

Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photos: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images and Scott Eisen/Getty Images.

A reelected Donald Trump could pull several levers to try and pare back federal policies aimed at speeding the transition to electric vehicles.

Why it matters: EVs are becoming more mainstream, but they're still a small share of U.S. car sales, and President Joe Biden has been keen to juice deployment.

Catch up fast: Trump, the GOP frontrunner, released a video late last week that, among other things, bashed EV costs. He vowed to reverse what he called a "ridiculous Green New Deal crusade."

  • Trump's seeking auto workers' votes in competitive states like Michigan, at a time when the United Auto Workers leadership is skittish about EVs.

The big picture: It's hard to see the votes for outright repealing the Democrats' climate law or the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill, even if Republicans have both chambers of Congress after 2024.

Yes, but: Trump would hardly be powerless.

Zoom in: His campaign released a list of proposals alongside the video. This isn't an exhaustive list, but let's explore some of those and other ways he could alter policy.

Trump's vowing to kill the EPA's brewing tailpipe CO2 emissions rules. The agency sees bringing EVs to 67% of U.S. light-duty sales by 2032.

  • Reversing a completed rule is time-consuming and legally fraught. One wrinkle: if the final rule was still tied up in court when Trump took office, his administration could decline to defend it.

A Trump-led Treasury Department could take a more restrictive view of how many EV models qualify for consumer purchase subsidies up to $7,500.

  • The climate law tethers tax credits to key battery materials sourced, processed or recycled domestically or from free-trade partners. But Treasury has wiggle room in the interpretation.
  • The Biden administration has also been crafting mineral-specific trade agreements with some countries that could be altered.

A Trump administration could make it harder to access funding streams and manufacturing incentives in the climate and infrastructure laws.

  • For instance, the infrastructure law has $7.5 billion for building out EV charging networks, but the money is doled out over multiple years.

State of play: Trump's policy agenda comes as rapid EV growth in recent years is showing signs of slowing.

  • EVs were 7.2% of U.S. sales in Q2, down very slightly from Q1, per Cox Automotive.

The bottom line: The move toward EVs is too far along to kill as automakers embracing them commit billions of dollars and expand their lineups. But Trump could alter how fast the tech is adopted.

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