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Even after infrastructure bill, EV advocate says more federal and state action needed to spur sales

Emily Bollinger
Rivian is making its electric trucks, vans, and SUVs in Normal, where it's rapidly become McLean County's third-largest employer.

A senior policy manager for a nonprofit aimed at promoting electric vehicle usage says the industry needs incentives included in the federal Build Back Better plan to get a boost nationwide.

Late last week, the House of Representatives passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, fulfilling a major priority for President Biden's domestic agenda and cementing a political victory for Democrats.

Among other provisions for roads, bridges and broadband was a $7.5 billion allotment for a burgeoning form of infrastructure: electric vehicle charging stations.

That's good news for companies like Rivian, but Electrification Coalition policy manager Anne Blair told WGLT the infrastructure bill is a starting point — albeit a "historic" one.

"It is a really great start ... but we need a lot more to make sure we're truly moving toward a transportation/electrification future."
Anne Blair from the Electrification Coalition

"Many of us who have been in the transportation space for many years have been waiting to see this happen," she said. "It is a really great start ... but we need a lot more to make sure we're truly moving toward a transportation/electrification future."

Blair added that the $7.5 billion in federal grant money for the first-ever, nationwide network of EV charging stations will help reinforce the idea to consumers that EVs are a normal, reliable means of transportation — and that charging stations function similarly to gas stations.

It "will help create that confidence, that reliability in the same way that people have with gas stations: They know where it is," she said. "It's supporting the full reliability and confidence for folks that they can go electric, that this is real technology and that they can charge when they need to."

But just 7% of U.S. adults own a fully electric or hybrid car, according to data from the Pew Research Center earlier this summer and more than 4 in 10 (46%) said they were unlikely to do so in the future.

That's where the Build Back Better bill comes in.

If the $1.75 trillion domestic spending packages passes in Congress, people who buy electric vehicles could receive up to $12,500 for doing so: $7,500 in an EV tax credit, plus an additional $4,500 for purchasing a union-made EV assembled in the U.S.

"We are anxiously waiting for the House to move forward in adopting and passing the Build Back Better Act, and then it will need to get approved by the Senate as well," Blair said of the EV-focused nonprofit. "We are just anxiously awaiting for that to continue moving forward."

Republicans already have said they will not support the bill because it includes tax increases on the wealthy to pay for extending the child tax credit, universal pre-K and elder care, and other Democratic wish-list items.

While there is demand for EVs as options increase throughout the U.S. — Rivian has over 55,000 pre-orders for its new truck and SUV models — that demand lags behind other countries.

Data from the International Energy Agency shows the U.S. represents only about 17% of the world’s total stock of 10.2 million EVs. China has 44% of all the EVs in the world (more than 4.5 million), and the nearly 3.2 million in Europe account for about 31%.

In a report on the matter, Pew Research Center suggested domestic EV sales have slowed "largely due to the declining popularity of plug-in hybrids and the phase out of federal tax credits on some of the most popular models."

In 2020, about 64,300 plug-in hybrids were sold, about half as many as in 2018, according to IEA data.

Meanwhile, about 231,000 all-electric vehicles were sold in 2020, down 3.2% from 2018.

"We need to also help support the vehicle development piece as well," said Blair. "We're seeing this transition happen in other countries — in Norway, we saw that their light-duty market... 85% of sales, just ... in the last couple months was electric. We want to see that in this country.

"We're still under 3% of vehicles sales in this country being electric and the Build Back Better Act will help set us on a path to increase that number."

NPR contributed to this report.

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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