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Federal bill seeks to ban gas-powered vehicles by 2035

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

West Coast Democrats this week introduced federal legislation that would ban U.S. sales of new vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2035, despite electric vehicles accounting for less than 5% of sales last year.

The proposal is hailed as a measure to reduce pollution and protect U.S. manufacturing. It runs counter to the Trump administration's work in rolling back Obama-era fuel economy standards that the overall industry hasn't met since 2015. Meanwhile, consumers are buying up trucks and SUVs with gas prices sitting closer to $2 than $4.

General Motors Co. unveiled its all-electric GMC Hummer pickup truck earlier this week. A bill proposed by West Coast Democrats seeks to require all new vehicle sales be zero-emission by 2035.

"If we don't make things in America, we won't have a middle class in America," Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who introduced the bill with California Rep. Mike Levin, said in a statement. "By moving aggressively and boldly now, we can help save Americans from the dire health and economic impacts of the climate crisis, and make sure American workers are the ones building the next generation of cars for the world."

The proposal comes on the heels of California Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signing an order seeking to ban new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Likewise, a recent report from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection suggests all new vehicles will need to be electric or hydrogen-powered by 2035 to meet the state's climate goals.

The federal standard proposed by the legislation would require that in five years, 50% of new sales would be zero-emission vehicles — with that figure increasing by five percentage points each year until 2035.

"Hitting 50% in 2025 is extremely aggressive," said Sam Abuelsamid, e-mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insights. "You're going to have a real hard time. Frankly, there's not going to be enough product at that time. It's extremely unlikely that by 2025 we'll even have enough production capacity of batteries for that many vehicles.

"Toward the end of the decade, 2030 is not out of the question or 100% by 2035. But that 50% threshold is going to be closer to 2030 than 2025."

At least 15 other countries have made similar commitments toward emissions-free futures, including Germany, France and Norway. The U.S. does not have a uniform policy on the adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles. General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV last fall sided with the Trump administration in a legal fight with California over a rule to strip the state of the authority to set its own tailpipe-emissions standards.

Ford Motor Co., on the other hand, has stood with California in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though it notes investment in infrastructure and public-private partnerships are critical in the adoption of electric technology.

"Legislation like the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act underscore the kind of conversations we need to have and will continue having for all of us who are excited about an electrified future," Ford spokeswoman Rachel McCleery said in a statement.

General Motors Co. did not comment on the specifics of the federal proposal. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV referred to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which did not immediately have comment.

The alliance represents automakers in Washington. It previously has stated its belief that mandates and bans are not the most effective way to build markets. Its members offer more than 40 electric car models, which is expected to more than triple by 2025.

Of the more than 17 million vehicles sold last year in the United States, automakers sold 325,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2019, according to auto information website Edmunds.com Inc. That's down almost 7% from 2018.

The problem, says Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, is the country is in need of the charging infrastructure to support electric-vehicle adoption. Environmental groups, labor unions and the manufacturers also should be at the table helping to develop a plan for a carbonless and affordable future, she said.

"We need to have targets," Dingell, who was not involved in development of the federal bill, told The Detroit News. "I certainly think that we need policies that are cleaning up the environment. Global climate change is real.

"Listen to the automakers, they agree. GM has been clear that they're moving to EVs. Ford Motor Company has been supportive of California's mandate. All of our goals are to keep the U.S. at the forefront of innovation and technology."

Earlier this week, FCA CEO Mike Manley called on European policymakers for "political and practical support" amid the novel coronavirus pandemic after the European Union in January accelerated its carbon-reduction targets to 55% from 45% by 2030.

FCA is a laggard in the electric-vehicle race, but it has championed its pending tie-up with French rival Groupe PSA as a way to increase its ability to invest in alternative powertrains. Fiat Chrysler has previously stated it will invest $10.5 billion on electrification through 2022 and introduce electric or hybrid versions of more than 30 models through 2022.

Ford has committed to investing $11 billion for electric-vehicle development by 2022. Its Mustang Mach-E is due out later this year, and an all-electric F-150 is slated to enter production in 2022.

GM "has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to an all-electric future," the company said in a statement. It is spending $20 billion on electric and autonomous vehicles through 2025, pushing to have 20 electric nameplates by 2023 globally. Earlier this week, the Detroit automaker announced a $3.5 million investment in its Lake Orion assembly plant for self-driving electric vehicles and $2 billion in a Tennessee plant to build electric Cadillacs, which the brand expects to make up a majority of its lineup by the end of the decade.

Although the Chevrolet Bolt EV was an early affordable option, GMC on Tuesday unveiled the all-electric Hummer that is set to start production next year with a price tag of $112,595.

"We've got to get the cost down significantly, especially in the mainstream segment," Abuelsamid said. "If you don't get the vehicle cost down, consumers are not going to be able to afford them."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble