The Chevrolet Bolt EV, Tesla Model 3 and electric vehicles in general face a radically new regulatory and political playing field as a professed climate change denier prepares to occupy the White House and gas prices continue to fall.
First there is the $7,500 federal tax credit for consumers buying or leasing an electric vehicle. The Trump administration so far has been short on policy specifics. But just two days after the election, automakers’ chief lobbying group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, urged the Trump transition team to revise not only the fuel economy standards, but also the Obama administration’s autonomous vehicle standards, on the grounds that they could cost its member companies billions of dollars.
“The short answer is that we don’t know what will happen with the Trump administration and electric vehicles,” said Dave Reichmuth, senior engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists clean vehicles program. “It might be awhile before we understand the policy priorities for the new administration.”
Reichmuth points out that the EV tax credit is embedded in the larger federal tax code, so removing it would require action from Congress. So it’s not likely to be changed soon, even if that was the direction that was chosen.
It’s worth noting that many of the cars receiving the credit come from U.S. assembly lines — Tesla in Fremont, Calif., the Volt at Detroit-Hamtramck, the Bolt in Orion Township and the Nissan Leaf in Smyrna, Tenn. None of this will shake automakers’ resolve to advertise and sell these plug-in vehicles.
The Bolt EV comes off a week when it won two Car of the Year awards, one from Motor Trend, the second from Green Car Journal. Its certified 238-mile range on a full charge should ease consumers’ anxiety about being stranded. The Bolt comes to market, beginning in California, at least one year ahead of the Tesla Model 3. Both are in the same price range — about $30,000 or slightly less after the $7,500 federal tax credit.
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“We have six now and four are already sold. Mid-December is the target week for when we get any more,” said Brian Satterlund, new car sales manager at Ron Tonkin Chevrolet in Portland, Ore., which has more public charging stations per capita than any U.S. city.
About 1,100 miles south in Redwood City, Calif., about 40 customers have preordered Bolts, according to Michael Little, a sales consultant at Boardwalk Chevrolet.
“Those people have paid a $1,000 deposit that holds your place in line,” Little said. “We’re expecting to receive 39 Bolts the week of Nov. 28 and another 14 on Dec. 12.”
Despite the turmoil in Washington, D.C., the West Coast remains a strong market for EVs.
California alone accounted for 54.5%, or 62,119, of the plug-in electric vehicles sold in 2015, according to hybridcars.com. The nation’s largest state also has its own EV tax credits — $2,500 for battery electrics and $1,500 for plug-in hybrids.
In addition, the California Air Resources Board has required that zero-emission vehicles account for a certain percentage of each automaker’s sales in the state. Those targets are 4.5% of sales in 2018, rising to 22% in 2025.
Nine other states have the same targets. They are Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.
But plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt and Ford’s Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi, and pure electrics such as Tesla’s Models S and X, Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, are still just a sliver of the U.S. market.