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Why the US’ new vehicle pollution standards are a big deal

A Tesla Semi electric truck at a charging station.
Photo: Tesla

New rules aimed at cleaning up America’s road transport sector are expected to spur a rapid shift to electric vehicles.

Why it matters: Transportation accounts for nearly 30% of US greenhouse gas emissions, making it the most polluting sector in the country, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

And despite tax incentives for buyers, the US is a laggard when it comes to the adoption of zero-emission vehicles. In 2023, EVs accounted for 7.6% of new vehicle sales — well behind the global average.

The latest: In late March, the EPA published new emissions standards for light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicles, which will take effect from 2027.

To comply, automakers will likely need to ensure that 56% of new passenger car and light- and medium-duty truck sales are electric by 2032, with plug-in hybrids taking another 13% share. Internal combustion engine vehicles — which will need to be more fuel efficient than they are today — will comprise just 29% of new sales.

Meanwhile, separate standards aimed at spurring a shift to cleaner heavy vehicles could result in 25% of new long-haul trucks being emissions-free by 2032, the EPA’s calculations show.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry body, welcomed the fact that the final rules give manufacturers more time to prepare than draft versions did.

“Automakers are committed to the electric vehicle transition… But pace matters,” John Bozzella, the organisation’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

“Moderating the pace of EV adoption in 2027, 2028, 2029 and 2030 was the right call because it prioritises more reasonable electrification targets in the next few — very critical — years of the EV transition.”

The adjusted electrification targets are “still a stretch goal” but will allow supply chains and charging infrastructure companies “a chance to catch up”.

“The standards will have a direct impact on Americans’ lives, improving air quality, cutting people’s transportation costs and reducing climate pollution,” said Dan Lashof, a director at the World Resources Institute.

The two sets of standards will yield $112 billion in annualised net benefits to society related to public health, the climate, and fuel savings, the EPA says.

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