Lawmakers and vehicle manufacturers urged caution in the government’s approach to electric vehicles, warning that long-term progress could be thwarted if the Biden administration attempts to push for too many such vehicles in too short a time.
Robert Wimmer, director of energy and environmental research at Toyota Motor North America, said automotive companies like his are committed to developing and promoting electric vehicle technology—but they must be realistic about barriers to widespread adoption.
“If we are to make dramatic progress in electrification, it will require overcoming tremendous challenges, including refueling infrastructure, battery availability, consumer acceptance and affordability, and the reliability of the electric grid,” Wimmer said at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Wimmer cautioned against big goals, saying it took Toyota 20 years to sell more than 4 million hybrids in the U.S. The company aims to have 40% of its new vehicle sales be electrified models by 2025. Toyota was one of several automakers, including GM, to back the Trump administration’s challenge to California’s more stringent fuel efficiency rules.
Less than 2% of the vehicles sold in the U.S. were exclusively battery electric last year, he added. Electrification is too often defined as exclusively battery electric vehicles, but Wimmer said alternatives such as hybrid vehicles will also help lower carbon.
“If we tie our horse to a single approach, many consumers will simply opt for an internal combustion vehicle,” he said.
President Joe Biden announced plans to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles, including replacing the government’s fleet with electric vehicles and planning to deploy 500,000 public charging stations across the country by 2030.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee’s ranking member, said Biden is taking the wrong approach. The government should encourage a variety of technologies; limiting consumer options to “just expensive electric vehicles is bad for consumers and the economy,” he said.
“I’m concerned that he wants to regulate the internal combustion engine out of existence and insist that all Americans use electric vehicles,” Barrasso said of Biden’s plans.
Electric cars are powered by rechargeable batteries that require raw materials such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt. Barrasso said that the EV shift would force the U.S. to “import critical materials, often from bad actors.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chair of the committee, shared those worries. Manchin said he understands the value electric vehicles provide in reducing emissions, but he is “deeply concerned that just a handful of countries, some of which have questionable mining practices, are the gatekeepers for the critical minerals we need to build the batteries used to power them.”
“We can’t stick our head in the sand about that; we have stronger environmental and workforce protection laws domestically than many of the countries that we rely on for these critical minerals,” Manchin said.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have pushed to expand critical mineral production in the U.S. to help create jobs, maintain energy independence, and strengthen national security. Many critical minerals imported to the U.S. come from China, Russia, and other nations with dubious human rights and environmental records.
Kelly Speakes-Backman, the principal deputy assistant energy secretary and acting assistant secretary, said the Department of Energyis working to diversify the supply, find substitutes to these materials, and improve recycling for batteries.
“We are making progress, but there’s a lot more work to be done and we need to accelerate that,” she said at the hearing.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org