Federal Electric Vehicle Ambitions Could Be a Boon for the Southeast

Achieving the Biden administration's aggressive electric vehicle goals could unlock additional investment and job growth to the auto manufacturing-rich Southeast.

Stan Cross | August 5, 2021 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Policy

President Biden set a target with today’s Executive Order: 50% of all new vehicles sold in 2030 will be zero-emissions vehicles. With accelerated investment and the right public policies, that’s a target America is poised to hit, and the Southeast is poised to profit from.

Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee represent approximately 18% of the nation’s population but have collectively secured approximately 36% of nationwide electric vehicle investment (up from 28% a year ago)and 18% of EV jobs (up 4% from last year). And the numbers are growing every month as more automakers and supply chain companies expand in the region.

The Shift is Happening

Biden’s 50% by 2030 zero-emission vehicle goal will drive EV market growth. Don’t just take his word for it. Listen to the leading automakers. GM, Ford, Stellantis, BMW, Honda, Volkswagen, and Volvo are all on the record and were at the White House today supporting rapid transportation electrification and committing hundreds of billions of dollars towards that end.

These legacy car and truck makers are watching Tesla’s quarterly profits surge past the $1 billion mark and new entrants like Rivian, Lucid, and Arrival capturing consumer excitement.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) is behind the push as well.

“The members of the UAW, current and future, are ready to build these electric cars and trucks and the batteries that go in them. Our members are America’s secret weapon in winning this global race.  That is why, today we stand with the President and support his ambition not just to grow electric vehicles but also our capacity to produce them domestically with good wages and benefits and the right to bargain,” UAW president, Ray Curry.

The Executive Order also kicks off the development of long-term fuel efficiency and emissions standards rolled back during the Trump administration. Combined with transportation electrification, these standards will improve car and truck performance, save consumers money at the pump, cut tailpipe pollution, boost public health, and reduce carbon emissions.

Embrace the Moment

The Southeast is out ahead in EV-related economic development and job growth but lagging in EVs on the road. The region represents only about 10% of nationwide EV sales. This is in part due to a lack of consumer awareness about the benefits of EVs but is largely driven by the lack of supportive state-level EV policies and the reluctance of state electric utility regulators to permit and electric utilities to propose large-scale utility investment.

If the Southeast wants to continue to be competitive and capture increasing EV investment and jobs, the EV market needs to be strengthened. Now is the time for state policymakers to embrace the policies that will expand EV access and ownership. Policies like the Transportation Climate Initiative, Zero Emission Vehicle standards, and the Advanced Clean Truck and Omnibus rules, and the allowance for EV manufacturers to sell their products directly to consumers are examples of levers that can be pulled to enable consumers and fleet operators to access EVs, generate revenue to support state programs, improve public health, and cut carbon emissions–all of which will help the region maintain competitiveness.

Utilities and regulators are beginning to propose and approve more ambitious electric transportation investments, but the region currently represents just over 4% of utility EV investment nationwide. Utilities have the capacity to spur EV charger deployment, support school and transit bus electrification, and educate consumers at scale. And doing so is in the utilities and ratepayers’ best interests. EVs will create new electricity demand that will increase utility revenue and put downward pressure on utility rates. Utilities are also positioned to ensure EV investments are equitable and reach traditionally marginalized and underserved communities. Utility investment is critical to moving the EV market from early-stage to mass-market adoption, which Biden’s goal calls for and will help the Southeast remain attractive to the expanding EV industry.

Act Now

The Southeast’s economy has a lot riding on transportation electrification. Mineral mining, battery production, electric car, truck, and bus manufacturing, charging infrastructure manufacturing, and industry research and development are all present and prepared to grow. There are a lot of jobs riding on that growth.

Driving electric cars, trucks, and buses save consumers and fleet operators money in fuel costs and maintenance. And replacing imported gas and diesel with in-state-generated electricity to power transportation has the potential to keep tens of billions of dollars annually in the region’s economy and consumer pockets.

President Biden’s administration has set the target. Now it’s up to the Southeast’s policymakers, regulators, utilities, and consumers to hit it and reap the benefits.

 

Electrify the South​ is a Southern Alliance for Clean Energy program that​ leverages research, advocacy, and outreach to promote renewable energy and accelerate ​the ​equitable ​transition to ​electric ​transportation throughout the Southeast. Visit ElectrifytheSouth.org to learn more and connect with us.

 

 

Stan Cross
Stan joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in 2019. Stan leads electric transportation policy and utility reform efforts across the Southeast. Previously, Stan led and co-founded Brightfield Transportation Solutions—an…
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