America’s gas-fueled vehicles imperil Biden’s climate goals, Auto News, ET Auto

DETROIT – In order for President Joe Biden to achieve his ambitious goal of halving America’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, huge savings would have to come from somewhere other than one of the worst culprits: car tailpipes.

That’s because there are just too many gas-powered passenger cars in the U.S. – roughly 279 million – to be replaced in less than a decade, experts say. In a normal year, automakers sell around 17 million vehicles nationwide. Even if each of the new ones were electric, it would take more than 16 years to replace the entire fleet.

In addition, vehicles now stay on America’s roads an average of nearly 12 years before being scrapped, which means gas-powered vehicles will dominate for many years to come.

“We won’t be able to achieve our goal with just new car sales,” said Aakash Arora, executive director of the Boston Consulting Group and author of a study on the introduction of electric vehicles. “The fleet is too big.”

So if government incentives couldn’t somehow get the majority of Americans to scrap their cars and trucks and buy electric vehicles, reducing tailpipe emissions by nearly 50 percent would take far longer than the Biden schedule. Last year, less than 2 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States were fully electric.

“If every new vehicle sold today was an electric vehicle and powered entirely on renewable energy overnight, it would be 10 years or more before we achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Chris Atkinson, professor of mechanical engineering and director of smart mobility at Ohio State University.

This means that other industries would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions deep enough to make up for the deficit in the auto industry.

Transportation as a whole, which includes not just cars and trucks, but also ships and airplanes, is the largest source of such pollution. Of the nearly 6.6 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted in the U.S. in 2019, transportation accounted for 29 percent. Next came power generation at 25 percent. Then there were factories with 23 percent, commercial and residential buildings with 13 percent and agriculture with 10 percent.

Electricity generation is the most likely source of faster reductions. This sector has already made significant progress. According to the government’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, carbon emissions from power generation were 52 percent lower last year than the government forecast for 2005. The reasons: More use of natural gas, solar and wind power as well as lower demand in the course of economic development in order to increase energy efficiency.

Biden, who announced his goals at a climate summit with world leaders on Thursday, has not yet detailed the greenhouse gas reductions his government is planning for each economic sector. Overall, the reductions are intended to limit global warming as part of the president’s vision of a nation that produces state-of-the-art batteries and electric cars, a more efficient electrical grid, and sealed off oil rigs and coal mines.

Gina McCarthy, Biden’s top climate advisor, appeared to be signaling Thursday that deeper emissions cuts would have to come from sectors other than the auto industry to meet the targets. She defended the government’s decision not to set a specific deadline for ending sales of new gas-powered cars or for achieving net zero emissions from the transport sector.

“We have many options,” said McCarthy, to cut US greenhouse gas emissions in half with no transportation destination.

For the transportation sector, the government says it will improve vehicle efficiency, invest in low-carbon renewable fuels, and make improvements in transit, rail and cycling. The administration also wants to convert the federal vehicle fleet with 650,000 vehicles to battery power.

To help drive sales of electric vehicles, the administration plans to spend $ 15 billion to build half a million charging stations by 2030 and offer unspecified tax credits and discounts to cut costs.

Replacing the entire fleet of gas burners with electric vehicles could even take more than 20 years. Todd Campau, deputy director of automotive industry at IHS Markit, estimates that the number of mostly gas-powered vehicles on US roads will continue to rise – to 284 million by 2025.

“The situation only worsens in terms of the volume that needs to be replaced,” said Campau.

Campau and others say it would require highly attractive government incentives to lure additional people out of their gas burners – something like a rerun of the 2009 cash-for-clunkers program proposed by New York Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer became, but on a large scale on a larger scale. The Schumer Plan provides discounts of at least $ 3,000 for people who scrap combustion vehicles for electrical purposes.

Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based climate think tank, predicted that the reduction in pollution in the transport sector after 2030 will come as the electric vehicle fleet grows.

“What you would then see is a more or less complete decarbonization of the transport sector – but by 2050,” he said.

Even if tailpipe emissions cannot be reduced quickly, Biden’s goals could, in theory at least, be achieved by making significant savings in emissions from power plants, as well as reducing methane pollution from oil wells and saving on fluorocarbons for refrigeration and air conditioning systems. said Kate Larsen, a director at Rhodium Group, a research company. Studies show that a mix of investments and regulations can cut electricity emissions by 80 percent by 2030, Larsen said.

“That will get us most of the way,” she said. “We’re not going to see 50 percent cuts across the board.”

Emission-free power generation creates the conditions for converting cars and many other pollutant sources into electricity, she said.

Even in countries ahead of the US in EV adoption, particularly Europe and China, there are still insufficient EVs in use to meet carbon-reduction targets by 2030, according to a report by Boston Consulting. In Europe with strong incentives and strict pollution limits, the market share of battery-only and plug-in hybrids rose from 3 percent to 10.5 percent last year. That is nowhere near enough.

“If half of the new cars sold worldwide in 2035 are zero-emission vehicles, 70 percent of the vehicles on the road will still burn gasoline or diesel,” the report said.

Faster adoption could also be constrained by a lack of factory capacity to manufacture batteries. In the United States, for example, only four plants are currently built or in progress. It would take 50 to electrify the entire fleet, OSU’s Atkinson said.

Even so, a shift from combustion to electric vehicles is well underway, and Boston Consulting says it will accelerate. The company assumes that sales of new plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles will increase from 12 percent of the world market in 2020 to 47 percent in 2025. It notes that battery costs are falling and automakers plan to introduce 300 new EV models by 2023. to offer consumers a wide choice.

“There’s a way that this can be done pretty quickly,” said Nathan Niese, author of the Boston Consulting report. “Business is moving in this direction. The government can only be the accelerator beyond that.”

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