Model X and Model S production increased during the quarter, but didn't quite meet Tesla's predictions.

With Trump Heading To The White House, Here’s What His Presidency Means for Electric Car Owners

Despite tightening polls over the past few weeks, poll after poll suggested the U.S. Presidential election would be a strong victory for Secretary Hillary Clinton, with popular sites like FiveThirtyEight confidently placing the chances of a Democratic victory at anywhere from 60 to 75 percent.

With the election map predominantly red, we're looking at a Trump Presidency.

With the election map predominantly red, we’re looking at a Trump Presidency.(Image: NBC)

But as we’re sure the entire world knows by now, that’s now how things played out on the night itself: businessman Donald J. Trump gained unexpected ground in many swing states to become President Elect. That news has caused abject horror from those opposed to the idea of him becoming the most powerful person in the world, stock markets around the world to jerk and spike like a bucking bull, and minorities all across the U.S. to cower in fear, hoping it was all a bad dream.

Hope

Hope might seem like a hard thing to find right now for many electric car advocates.

It isn’t. Saving some unforeseen event, Donald Trump will become the 45th U.S. President. That — combined with the Republican majority gained in both houses — means that many policies will be changed and many laws rewritten or repealed. The result? a lot of the policies we’ve grown to know over the past eight years will change, and that includes ones that will impact electric car owners and the future of electric cars directly.

Of course, it’s early days. Not a policy has been written yet. But based on what Mr. Trump has said over the past eighteen months on the campaign trail, we’re pretty sure what the impact on electric cars will be looking forward. So if you’re still feeling a little sore about the election, you may want to read this another time. But if you’re feeling brave, read on.

EPA, DOE under threat

As someone who has called climate change a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, Mr. Trump is not only a climate change denier but an opponent of the Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier on in the campaign, Trump had vowed to eliminate the EPA altogether, bemoaning what he called regulation on ‘phony environmental issues.’ More recently however, he has toned down his rhetoric, promising to end or relax regulations that favor the development of a renewable energy economy and instead focusing on harnessing further fossil fuels.

Not

Donald Trump isn’t a fan of Solar, and calls Climate Change a ‘Hoax’

While we don’t know the details yet, that appears to include encouraging a resurgence in generating electricity using coal-fire plants and eliminating regulations that are designed to make it hard for oil and gas companies to engage in fracking in environmentally sensitive areas.  What does that mean? The cost of gasoline will likely fall, saving the average consumer money on their weekly fill up. Lower gas prices can have a negative impact on electric car sales, although not always.

What will have more impact from the EPA’s point of view however, are any potential reductions in Corporate Average Fuel Economy or emissions goals currently set by the Obama administration. Let’s not forget the Department of Energy too, which Trump has also shared some choice words about during his campaign, bemoaning the agency just as he has the EPA.

Killing or neutering the EPA or DoE’s powers to set environmental targets for emissions or fuel economy targets for cars won’t affect the cars you can buy today. Tesla, despite its financial constraints, isn’t going anywhere and global automakers like Nissan and BMW have too much invested in electric vehicles to suddenly shut shop. But any relaxation of these targets WILL affect things moving forward. Automakers, keen to produce the largest profit from the smallest investment (like any business) will default to the cheapest vehicles with the highest markup they can make while remaining in compliance with the law.

In Trump’s America, where gas prices are low and there’s nobody looking out for emissions, that equates to full-size pickup trucks and SUVs across wide swathes of the country.

Investment into EVs and EV infrastructure will die

Just last week, President Obama’s White House announced a new fund to establish a corridor of alternative fuel filling stations across the U.S. That fund included the building of a coast-to-coast electric vehicle highway that would make it possible to finally cross the U.S. in a (non Tesla) electric car with ease.

EV charging corridors like the one being planned by the FHWA are at risk.

EV charging corridors like the one being planned by the FHWA are at risk.

But with Trump now headed to the White House, that fund is jeopardy, alongside the current $7,500 Federal Tax Credit scheme available to those who who buy a brand new electric car. That scheme, due to expire when individual automakers hit their 200,000th electric car sold in the U.S., would likely not get extended and may be cut prematurely.

If funding into electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electric vehicle purchase incentives are cut, the lower gas prices detailed above will certainly impact electric vehicle sales in states not currently following the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate set by the California Air Resources Board (we’ll come to that in a second).

Paris climate deal accord ignored

Long before last night, Trump vowed to rip up the Paris climate change accord signed by President Obama, reversing spending trends on renewable energy and investing heavily in the oil and gas industry. This would not only include opening up large swathes of the U.S. to oil and gas companies keen to frack (a smaller government makes it even easier for them to turn massive profits while simultaneously curtailing the rights of communities such as those at Standing Rock, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are fighting against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline) but it would make it harder for the benefits of electric cars to be felt.

If the Paris agreement is torn up, we may find EV sales dwindle.

If the Paris agreement is torn up, we may find EV sales dwindle.

Ending — or rather removing the U.S. from that agreement — would, when combined with the curtailing of the EPA and DoE’s powers, make it more likely that coal fired power stations continue to operate in coal-rich states, halting the gradual greening of the electricity grid we’ve seen over the past several decades.

And if the electricity grid remains dirty, then so too are electric cars, negating any environmental benefits possible by charging electric cars from renewable zero-emissions sources.

There’s a way through this, but it won’t be easy

If you’ve got this far through then congratulations! We’ll admit what came above is pretty tough. But while it may seem like doom and gloom, there are some really important things you should remember about the electric car industry.

Firstly, the majority of electric cars on sale today are on sale because of the efforts of the California Air Resources Board and the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. Adopted by a total of eleven states in the union, the mandate requires medium and large-volume automakers to produce a specific proportion of zero emission vehicles out of their total vehicle fleet per year or faced heavy fines. And while the ZEV mandate program has led to the term “compliance car” — vehicles reluctantly made and sold by automakers in order to satisfy the ZEV mandate — it’s worth remembering that California still has the widest choice of electric vehicles on sale today.

Califronia's ZEV mandate is responsible for many of the EVs on the roads today.

California’s ZEV mandate is responsible for many of the EVs on the roads today.

Indeed, while California isn’t home to the highest number of electric vehicles per capita (that’s Washington State, another ZEV mandate state), it does have the highest overall number of electric vehicle sales by volume. Donald Trump is unlikely to change this fact, at least initially.

California isn’t alone either. Other states have their own active electric vehicle incentive programs. Those states (generally blue on yesterday’s election map) aren’t going to suddenly end their own state-wide programs because Donald Trump is heading to the White House. Yes, it’s possible that some automakers, backed by the oil industry and the claim some states are operating anti-competitive practices, could fight ZEV mandates as they did fifteen years ago. It’s possible too that fight could even find its way to the SCOTUS, along with auto-dealer legislation cases involving Tesla Motors which, when pitted against a right-leaning bench filled with at least one Trump-nominated judge, could be defeated.

But these nightmare scenarios won’t happen overnight.

It’s worth remembering too that economics have started to tip towards electric vehicles and renewable energy. Today, it’s cheaper per kilowatt-hour to generate power from a photovoltaic solar panel than it is to generate electricity using oil, gas or coal. If Trump’s ideal is market parity (and that means taking away subsidies for both renewable energy and fossil fuel companies) then the cheapest, most cost-effective solution will win.

The same is true for cars. Electric cars are still too expensive for many, but vehicles like the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3 are slowly, irrevocably starting to change the balance of power in electric car’s favor. They are cheaper to maintain and far cheaper to fuel. And since automakers plan their model lineups globally, an automaker still may find a case for making an electric car rather than an internal combustion engine one, even in Trump’s America.

There are tough times ahead, but it's down to advocates and drivers to step up to the plate.

There are tough times ahead, but it’s down to advocates and drivers to step up to the plate.

We leave our final thoughts to our good friend and long-time electric vehicle advocate Chelsea Sexton who, as we were preparing this piece, published her own take on yesterday’s election results. In a sobering post, she implored “anyone still resting on those laurels of hope to knock it off,” adding that while the sky is not falling as a result of the election, there’s a great deal of work to be done in order to protect the progress electric cars have made in the past decade.

It is time yet again to become advocates, to become vocal, and to support the electric car world. Things are under threat, but only if those who currently share the dream of switching to renewable energy choose to do nothing.

“It is also long past time for the conservatives to come back out of the closet in support of EVs. Many retreated when EVs became associated with President Obama, but if national, energy, and economic security are indeed the priority, then driving on cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity is still a crucial component to address those issues. This topic is as bipartisan as they come, and there is no longer any excuse not to support it,” Sexton writes. “I’m still an optimist, but there is a tremendous about of work to do. We need all hands on deck, and not simply with fingers.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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  • leptoquark

    First off Nikki, let me say I’m so embarrassed and saddened that you took the time and effort to move your family to the US from the UK, only to experience this. Next, let me compliment you on this excellent article! You really buoyed my spirits talking about California and the other ZEV states. The states have been where most of the EV action has been anyway. And Chelsea makes a great point. EV’s wear many hats ($, energy security, environment), so if one doesn’t work for some folks, the others probably will.

    So, think like Dori and just keep swimming, just keep swimming….

  • Martin Lacey

    Come back to Blighty – at least we don’t have a bigoted racist/sexist elected to power.

    Back to the topic.

    Things don’t look good for the future of sustainable energy and transport for sure. But I can’t see Trump eroding individual State laws very easily meaning CAFE and CARB regs should remain unchanged. However the future of EV’s depends greatly on EV makers rolling out their product to other states, which they will only do at a profit. So it might be interesting to see how close to parity some manufacturers really are!

  • Andrew Hohmann

    Thank you Niki for maintaining this discussion on reducing carbon emissions. The first step in solving a problem is to identify the problem. The EPA protects the CATALYTIC converter which needs unburned fuel to function properly. Reducing fuel consumption is not allowed under EPA regulations. For this article let’s say the problem is carbon based energy to move a car (etc.) from point A to point B. At the energy equivalent of 96 mpg, the TESLA uses less energy to travel than most petroleum fueled cars. At the World International Energy Conference 2008 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Renewable_Energy_Conference, oil patch President Bush was shown a Dodge van with a 318 cu. in. V8 capable of getting 100 mpg. For Dutchman Enterprises that was a beginning. FORD motor company worked in co-operation with Dutchman to research this technology. Ford tested on 27 platforms, then asked for more units to expand testing. The Bush administration allowed the FTC, EPA. and DOE to enjoin Dutchman enterprises from selling product, exparte (without an injured party), or continuing research to increase mileage further. During the GM, Chrysler bailout (loan), Ford was GRANTED (http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/7773/doe-awards-ford-two-grants-for-fuel-efficiency-research ) millions. Ford denied any affiliation with Dutchman. The Obama administration has done less than nothing to encourage after market inventors from reducing fuel consumption. The engineers working on the Dutchman system needed it as a starting point to implement their better technology which proved on an engine dynomometer test bed to deliver cleaner exhaust while reducing fuel consumption, not by percentage mileage increase, but by magnitudes. The second phase was capable of using crude oil as a fuel source, with near zero greenhouse gas emissions. The Clintons proved policy is for sale to the highest bidder. Has anyone claimed Trump is for sale? If Dutchman’s technology were available to end users, home generators could recharge electric cars with near zero greenhouse emissions. Or better yet, existing cars could be emitting near zero greenhouse emissions.

    • Jeff Laurence

      What next? More “facts”about the cars that can run on water? Car makers have been striving to increase economy without increasing emissions for 50 years now with varying degrees of success. Please don’t pollute this site with conspiracy theories and political bias.

  • Jeff Laurence

    The end of our shinning example of government and the nightmare begins. All our leadership in climate change and alternative transportation is at an end. I don’t see any point in pretending otherwise.

  • 4wheeler

    At this point, I would not rush into judgement about Trump’s intentions towards EVs, whether as a collateral damage resulting from increased sales of cheap-gas ICE vehicles or resulting from dismantling the EPA/CAFE rules and regulations. The rest of the world has committed to EV production in a very big way and Europe, China and India have massive environmental initiatives in place to make this happen by the end of the decade. It is obvious then that they will be the leaders of the future if America were to drop the ball. Given that Trump has stated clearly that he does not want America to be second best, he would have to ensure that America remains in its leadership position and place. Also, the recent VW Dieselgate settlement has set aside a massive $2.2B fund to set up a ZEV infrastructure, and that has to happen too, further supporting the rising EV trajectory, regardless of what happens in Washington.

    • Jeff Laurence

      That’s great for other countries but here where I live in the US, it couldn’t be worse for the growth of electric vehicles and we do influence the market to, some extent, worldwide.

  • Lawrence Taylor

    In Germany, people don’t trust VW to make the shift to EV. Mercedes is trying to use job training to keep from laying off too many people. But the labor unions (the people) should also stand up to push their companies into a renewable future. The Germans are too proud of their traditions to change. There is a reason as to why EV sales have always been under 1% in both Germany and Switzerland. I am frustrated since I moved to Freiburg thinking that they would be more receptive to changing our path away from ICE. I am open to a move to Norway.

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