‘It’s a global market.’ EV makers shrug off Trump

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Automakers aren’t letting the Trump administration get in the way of their electric vehicle ambitions.

That’s one key takeaway of the Washington Auto Show, an annual conference drawing hundreds of auto industry representatives to discuss electrification, automation and the future of mobility.

The event is taking place just a nine-minute drive from the White House, whose chief occupant has disparaged electric vehicles and threatened to eliminate the EV tax credit.

But in interviews and on the show floor, auto industry representatives said they were unconcerned by the president’s posturing. They plan to forge ahead with introducing more plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles around the globe.

“It’s a global market. So all automakers are basically active globally. And if you look at China and their regulations, if you want to be a player in the market, you have to have electric cars,” said Pietro Zollino, executive vice president of communications with Volkswagen Group of America.

Zollino noted that China has aggressive plans to sell 4.6 million electric vehicles by 2020 and eventually ban the internal combustion engine, while the European Union will ramp up the stringency of its carbon dioxide emissions standards for cars.

Brad Stertz, director of government affairs for Audi, echoed these sentiments while standing beside the company’s first electric SUV, called the e-tron.

“It’s not just the U.S. or California that’s driving us because, you know, our strategy is to do this globally,” Stertz said, adding that Europe’s CO2 standards for cars are getting “tighter and tighter and tighter.”

While China and European countries forge ahead with aggressive EV targets, the United States is driving in the opposite direction. The Trump administration is proposing to significantly weaken Obama-era vehicle fuel efficiency rules, which aimed to get new cars and trucks to travel 36 mpg in real-world conditions.

In addition, President Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request called for eliminating the EV tax credit, which allows people who purchase electric vehicles to receive up to $7,500 after filing their tax returns (E&E News PM, March 11).

Toyota Motor Corp. product specialist Kelly Paredes shrugged off the proposals.

“We have been making hybrid vehicles before this administration, and we’ll continue to make them,” she said, pointing to the RAV4 hybrid a few feet away.

Mark Gillies, senior manager for product and technology at Volkswagen of America, said the White House could change hands every four years, while the company’s investments in EVs are longer-term. He said the company plans to continue complying with the Obama-era clean car rules, particularly in the event of a new Democratic president being elected in 2020.

“You don’t want a situation where an administration comes in and decides that they’re going to reevaluate the standards, and then two years later, you get [a] different government and they change the standards again,” Gillies said.

Emphasis on emissions

This year’s Washington Auto Show also saw an increased focus on the need to reduce planet-warming emissions to combat climate change.

During a press tour organized by Advanced Energy Economy, Zollino spoke at length about Volkswagen’s vision of eventually becoming a zero-emissions company.

“From a global perspective, the company has made a strong commitment to the Paris climate agreement,” Zollino said. “For us, it’s really important. We feel a responsibility as … 2 percent of CO2 emissions [globally] can be attributed to Volkswagen. So whatever we do has an impact.

“At some point, we will basically be an electric car company, an emission-free company,” he said. “Everything will be CO2-neutral.”

Zollino tacitly acknowledged that the focus on sustainability comes after Dieselgate, the infamous scandal in which the company was caught cheating on auto emissions tests.

“I think the company’s really transforming into a company that takes global responsibility seriously,” he said. “Out of a bad experience, I think that we really tried to draw the right conclusions.”

Mike O’Brien, vice president of product and corporate planning with Hyundai Motor America, said the company is studying the lifecycle emissions associated with EVs.

The literature clearly shows that EVs produce far fewer emissions than their gasoline-powered counterparts. But the source of the electricity powering an EV matters. If the electricity is coming from a coal-fired power plant, the vehicle still has some lifecycle emissions.

“Let’s face it: For the near future and the foreseeable future, a lot of our electricity is going to come from fossil fuels,” O’Brien said. “So even though we have an electric vehicle and we’re zero emission in the tailpipe, we have to think about it in terms of the total ecosystem.”