Federal government goes electric. Or, it’ll try.
President Biden last week signed an executive order that, among other initiatives to mitigate climate change, strongly encourages the federal government to purchase only zero emission vehicles. Biden wants these vehicles to be made primarily in the United States, by unionized workers, which he says will help stimulate the economy and create up to 1 million jobs.
In a sense, the federal fleet is just a drop in the ocean of American vehicles. According to the General Service Administration, the federal government owned 645,000 vehicles in 2019, of which only 3,200 fully electric and 1,260 gasoline hybrids. That’s a tiny fraction of the 280 million vehicles that traveled on American roads that year. Of the 17.1 million vehicles sold in the United States in 2019, only 1.4% were fully electric.
Still, experts say the decree is significant. It’s a sign the Biden administration is serious about mitigating climate change – and determined to support the very young electric vehicle industry, which has raised a lot of money on Wall Street but not yet convinced many Americans to buy his cars.
“This is a very symbolic gesture, and the first of its kind by the federal government,” says Sanya Carley, a professor who studies energy policy at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at the University of the Indiana. “It sets a precedent.”
Supporters of EVs hope government vehicles will become rolling billboards for motorists unsure of electric cars. “If people see that their couriers are driving electric vehicles, they’ll have the confidence they need,” says Doug Kettles, director of the Central Florida Clean Cities Coalition, a Department of Energy-backed group that promotes advanced vehicles. technologies. Many Americans haven’t even seen an electric vehicle on the road, let alone a moving vehicle. A federal car invasion just might change that. “It will be a huge incentive for people to take a closer look at electric transportation,” Kettles says.
Biden’s directive may not be quick or easy to implement. Federal government might not be able to demand one of its larger fleets—In the postal service – switch to electricity. Thanks to the agency’s quasi-government status, which does not receive federal taxpayer dollars, the administration may not be able to attach an electrical requirement to the purchase of new mail trucks.
Meanwhile, Obama-era executive orders directing government agencies to create internal targets for purchasing electric vehicles have been repealed by the Trump administration, which has also dealt a heavy blow to the development of electric vehicles. roll back aggressive fuel economy requirements. In addition, the government is slowly transferring its fleet; today, the average public vehicle is almost 15 years old. The aging of the gasoline vehicles in this fleet will take time.
Which is convenient, as automakers will need time to prepare the government order. Three automakers—You’re here, General Motors, and Ford– manufacture electric vehicles in the United States. But none are in line with the new government’s “Buy American” and union labor provisions.
Still, government contracts could give American automakers the certainty they need to step up their efforts on electric vehicles. “Governments have a lot of purchasing power and they often lead with innovation to attract market demand,” says Costa Samaras, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who studies electric vehicle policy at Carnegie Mellon University. To wit: in total, the federal government spent $ 4.37 billion to buy, refuel and maintain vehicles in 2019. “This is the lowest fruit of low-profile electric vehicles,” he says.
Last week General Motors ad it plans to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035 and spend $ 27 billion deploying 30 models of electric vehicles over the next five years. Ford has pledged to spend $ 11 billion on electrified vehicles – including a Electric Mustang and an F-150 electric pickup – until next year.