Q&A: What The Biden Administration Could Mean For EV Companies Like Rivian | WGLT

Q&A: What The Biden Administration Could Mean For EV Companies Like Rivian

Nov 23, 2020

All sorts of industries are bracing for change, as we move from the Trump administration to the Biden administration.

The electric vehicle industry is one of them. And it’s taking a new approach to achieving its policy goals, forming a new industrywide advocacy group called the Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA). Its founding members include Rivian, Tesla, Uber, Lucid, and Lordstown, among others.

Its top priority is reaching 100% electric vehicle sales by 2030. It’s a lofty goal, given that only about 2% of sales in the U.S. are currently EVs. But ZETA executive director Joe Britton says they’re looking to major “catalyst moments” to make progress toward that goal.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

WGLT: Why is a group like ZETA necessary? What are the things you think you can accomplish together versus what an individual company could accomplish from a lobbying perspective on its own?

Britton: When you're trying to get the public sector to invest in something, you really need to make a public interest case for it. And so that's really what our goal is. We're actually formed as a 501(c)(4) public interest nonprofit. And so our goal is that every vehicle sold by 2030 is an EV. And again, for us, that's not a mandate, it's not a gas-powered car ban. But really putting in place policies to help us get there, which is support and incentives for consumers, building the domestic manufacturing we need, deploying a charging infrastructure, and making sure that there's ubiquitous opportunities for folks to drive EVs and get to where they need to go, and kind of assuage any range anxiety that may be out there.

"Here's my rule about politics: All predispositions go away when you drop 1,000 jobs into somebody's congressional district."

So those are all the pieces that you need to sequence and put in place in order to accelerate the transition to electrification in the transportation sector. So that really takes a group of folks and collective action. And I think we're bringing to policymakers a really respected group of job creators and folks that can speak to economic opportunity, and how this transition is going to be good for economic development, it's going to be good for competitiveness, it's going to be good for innovation. And we can really turn the corner and do something meaningful for our economy, for the consumer.

And then oh, by the way, if you care about decarbonization, and reducing mobile-source pollution and emissions, we're also doing really something meaningful for climate change and public health. And so there's a host of benefits here that we think are a compelling message for policymakers and serving the public interest.

The Trump administration was not especially friendly to your industry. It rejected new tax credits for EVs, proposed killing existing credits, and made it easier to sell gas-powered vehicles. What is your read on the Biden administration's approach and what it's going to be?

I don't think this is an inherently partisan issue. Certainly in the space of climate-adjacent issues, this is probably the least partisan.

So Lordstown Motors Co., they were one that invited Vice President Pence for their plant opening. They actually brought the Endurance pickup to the White House. And at the second debate, Trump announced his strong support for EVs at the debate, I think, in part because he had taken his picture with the Endurance pickup three days earlier.

So I think there's there is a kind of a breakthrough here where this sector doesn't fall into your typical partisan ruts that you might see other sectors fall into. With that being said, yeah, I think the Biden administration is going to provide us a lot of opportunities to go and precipitate this transition. And I think part of that is an environment where they're supporting emissions and performance standards that send the right market signal that transitioning to electrification is the future. Again, we can look at our friends and allies and foreign competitors, and see that that's the case no matter what, but having an administration who's going to push that forward, and signal to industry that this is where we need to go, that's important.

Also, having support for consumer incentives -- again, we believe it should be a point-of-sale consumer incentive that a buyer would see -- it's on the hood, it's something they achieve the value of right away, in addition to some additional, whether it's a trade-in or a legacy vehicle retirement, some additional credit for turning in an older, more polluting vehicle. So we think that's important.

And then, (Biden has) talked about deploying 500,000 public charging infrastructure units, additional charging infrastructure, across the country. And that is a huge boost to the space. We need to be able to show the consumer that you can serve a host of use cases. Obviously, if you are living in a single-family home with a garage and you can charge your home, that's great. But you also need to be able to show folks that there's on-street parking, there's multiunit charging opportunities, that you're really deploying in the transportation corridor, the charging opportunities that are going to be needed to support these vehicles. So, that's all a huge kind of advancement of the electrification cause.

My understanding is the electric vehicle sales represent about 2%, almost 3%, of all sales at this point, is that about right?

That may be a generous assessment. It's growing, though.

We want to be at 100% EV sales by 2030. And that's across the light, medium and heavy-duty sectors. Right now, as a country we sell about 17 million new light-duty vehicles a year. There's about 800,000 medium and heavy-duty vehicles a year, and so we really want to see an arc or to scale what is a small percentage now, to a much larger percentage.

There are a lot of folks that see certain catalyst moments once there's charging infrastructure buildout, once there's consumer incentives, that over time there can be exponential growth and creating an arcway towards a 2030 goal.

We want consumers to choose this. This is not something that we're demanding as a mandated outcome. But really you need to sequence the manufacturing, the charging infrastructure and the consumer incentives to make this possible. And we're aspirational. That's a future that we can see. And we really believe there's a win in it not only for the consumer, but for economic development and job creation across the country. And that's something that I think that, certainly after this last election, folks are pining for. I think everybody is going to be striving to tell a story that resonates with working-class Americans, and I think you have to be able to show how are you going to be thinking creatively or shaping and deploying the public sector to improve people's lives. And this is squarely an opportunity that I think that folks from both sides of the aisle can invest in and see leadership opportunity and solutions for Americans.

How much of what you’re going to do is federal vs. state-level lobbying work?

Almost all of what we will do is federal. So we're going to be focused on congressional engagement and in working with the administration. There's a lot of groups out there that are more state focused, like the Alliance for Transportation Electrification.

One of your goals is to “ensure local leaders are empowered with the expertise and resources to support full vehicle electrification.” What do you mean?

I actually helped run a municipal energy summit (in August 2019), and I was really inspired by how much interest there was in making this transition. And part of it was renewable energy, but a lot of it was electric vehicles.

And if you're a local leader, you obviously want to make sure that the finances that you're spending, the investments that you're making, they’re going to meet your community's needs. And so some of that may be transit. Some of it may be ensuring that there's on-street charging. There may be rental codes where you want to make sure that you're supporting those folks who don't live in a single-family home but for multiunit dwellings, that there are charging opportunities there.

A lot of local communities have their own incentives. So there's obviously a federal incentive, the 30D tax credit. But a lot of local communities are considering, how do I partner with my utility to analyze data and provide some people an additional incentive for at-home charging or for even vehicle acquisition at the local level?

So there's a host of things that you can do, whether it's EV Make-Ready, whether it's deploying electric transportation as a municipal fleet as part of your transit system, or incentivizing residential charging and retail EV acquisition. These local leaders are really doing a lot. And I think having a federal entity that can help them think through what works, what sort of incentives are really driving the behavior and market changes that they're wanting to see, and then providing them the resources to do that sort of convening and then deploy that infrastructure at the local level is really, really important. That's a key piece of sequencing all this and making the transition possible.

What is Rivian’s role in all this? They’re a founding member of your organization.

We've got a host of EV companies that are in the manufacturer space. Rivian, Lordstown, Lucid, Tesla. So they're one of our founding manufacturers.

And so what they're really doing is helping us get the policy right. They're helping us both in developing policy that we think will accelerate this transition, but then also leveraging their relationships and sophistication to get the advocacy right, and really be strategic. And so that's relationships that they have in Congress. It's working with local leaders and making sure that everybody's coordinating to tell a similar story about what opportunity is out there if we make this transition possible and we electrify the transportation sector.

And so, it is a unique opportunity to be on the front end of something like this. And Rivian was one of the first to stand up and say this is something we want to be a part of.

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