US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Thursday aimed at making half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles and will propose new vehicle-emission rules to cut pollution through 2026, the White House said.
Mr Biden's goal, which is not legally binding, won the support of major US and foreign car makers, who said the plan would require billions of dollars in government funding.
After he signed the order, he walked away and jumped into an EV Jeep, which he proceeded to drive rapidly around the White House grounds, even honking at one point to let people know he was coming.
"To unlock the full potential, we have to keep investing in our workers and our manufacturers," Mr Biden said.
General Motors, Ford and Chrysler-parent Stellantis NV said in a joint statement that they aspire “to achieve sales of 40-50 per cent of annual US volumes of electric vehicles … by 2030."
Mr Biden's 50 per cent goal and the car makers' 40-50 per cent aspiration includes battery-electric, fuel-cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles that also have a gasoline engine.
The president continues to resist calls from many Democrats urging a binding requirement for electric vehicle (EV) adoption, or to follow California and some countries in setting 2035 as a date to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered light-duty vehicles in the face of opposition by the United Auto Workers union.
The union's president, Ray Curry, noted the EV goal, but said it was focused “on preserving the wages and benefits that have been the heart and soul of the American middle class."
Mr Biden's new executive order sets a new schedule for developing new emissions standards through at least 2030 for light-duty vehicles and as early as 2027 for larger vehicles.
Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign, said the plan “relies on unenforceable voluntary commitments from unreliable car makers … Voluntary pledges by auto companies make a New Year’s weight-loss resolution look like a legally binding contract."
General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra and Ford CEO Jim Farley were among those in attendance.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, whose company makes EVs, tweeted early on Thursday: “Seems odd that Tesla wasn’t invited.”
When asked if Musk was excluded because Tesla is not a union shop, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, "I'll let you draw your own conclusion."
The Detroit 3 car makers said the aggressive EV sales goals can only be met with billions of dollars in government incentives including consumer subsidies, EV charging networks as well as “investments in R & D, and incentives to expand the electric vehicle manufacturing and supply chains in the United States."
Hyundai said it supports the 2030 40-50 per cent EV sales goal. Toyota said in a statement the goal was “great for the environment”.
Meanwhile, US regulators plan to propose revising former president Donald Trump's March 2020 rollback of fuel economy standards. Mr Trump required 1.5 per cent annual increases in efficiency through 2026, well below the 5 per cent yearly boosts set in 2012 by former president Barack Obama's administration.
Mr Biden's proposed rules, which cover 2023-2026, are expected to be similar in overall vehicle emissions reductions to California's 2019 deal with some car makers that aims to improve fuel economy 3.7 per cent annually through 2026, sources told Reuters.
The new standards would be “ambitious, aggressive but they're also feasible,” Pete Buttigieg told CNBC, but gave no other details. Mr Buttigieg is the US Secretary of Transportation.
BMW, Honda, Volkswagen, Ford and Volvo Cars — which previously struck the California deal — said in a joint statement they support the administration's EV goal but that the federal government must take “bold action … to build consumer demand."
Consulting firm AlixPartners in June said investments in EVs by 2025 could total $330 billion. EVs now represent about 2 per cent of total global vehicle sales and could be about 24 per cent of total sales by 2030, it forecast.
Mr Biden has called for $174bn in government spending to boost EVs, including $100bn in consumer incentives. A bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill includes $7.5bn for EV charging stations, but no money for new consumer incentives.