Joe Biden never said, “If you like your gas-powered car, you can keep your gas-powered car,” in the manner of his former boss dissembling to the American people about doctors and Obamacare. Instead, candidate Biden said the quiet part out loud to a CNN town hall in 2019. We need to “get internal-combustion-engine vehicles off the road,” he said. Once in office, he followed through with executive orders and policy changes that aimed to do just that. The White House proposed strict carbon dioxide emissions rules that would force carmakers to slash production of gas-powered vehicles over the next few years. Biden also signed legislation allocating billions to building new charging stations, subsidizing battery factories, and granting some car buyers rebates of up to $7,500 when they buy an EV.

For a time, it looked as if Biden’s EV boom was starting to materialize. Fully battery-powered electric vehicles—BEVs—commanded nearly 8 percent of U.S. light-duty vehicle sales last year, up from about 2 percent when Biden took office. And U.S. carmakers have poured tens of billions into ramping up their EV production lines. But for the EV revolution to continue, electric vehicles must grow their appeal beyond early adopters and catch on with mainstream car buyers. In a 2022 Tech Commentary column, I observed that EVs were niche vehicles purchased mostly by affluent buyers looking for a high-tech (and high-status) second or third car. “But the administration is fooling itself if it thinks most Americans are itching to become part of the EV elite,” I wrote.

This year, the EV juggernaut is beginning to run out of juice. After years of explosive growth, EV sales have leveled off and even dropped in some cases. Tesla’s global sales plunged a stunning 8.5 percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period in 2023. GM’s EV sales also fell. And, since demand for gas vehicles was stronger, EVs actually declined as a percentage of total new-car sales, dropping to 7.1 percent. A CNN business report recently wondered at how “EVs became such a massive disappointment.”

Even before sales plateaued, automakers who had bet on a rapid EV transition could see trouble ahead. Last year, Honda pulled out of a planned venture with GM to build a line of affordable EVs, citing a changing business climate. Despite strong buzz around its F-150 Lightning pickup and Mustang Mach-E, Ford managed to lose $4.7 billion on its EV business last year. That works out to a loss of nearly $65,000 for each vehicle sold, the Wall Street Journal calculates. Ford is now slashing its EV workforce. “Demand is much slower than the industry expected,” Ford’s CFO John Lawler told reporters. The car-rental company Hertz is in trouble after buying 60,000 EVs, which many customers refused to rent. The experiment was “a horror show,” one analyst told CNN. Apparently, no matter how hard the administration pushes, most U.S. drivers aren’t ready to take a ride down electric avenue.

Interestingly, one of the few global carmakers that hasn’t gone all-in on all-electric vehicles is Toyota, the company that pioneered the gas-electric hybrid concept in the late 1990s. Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda has repeatedly predicted that pure battery electric vehicles will reach no more than a 30 percent global market share. That’s why Toyota puts more emphasis on hybrid technology and on plug-in hybrids that combine a combustion engine with a modest battery pack that gives the car an all-electric range of 40 miles or more. The company is also researching hydrogen fuel cells. Toyoda said he believes that “customers, not regulations or politics” should determine drive-train choices.

I think Toyoda is right. BEVs are a promising development in automotive technology. They can be great for drivers in urban or suburban regions with mild climates. But electric cars are not for everyone. They struggle to cope with extreme heat and cold. And most people find them impractical in rural areas or for long road trips. In a 2023 survey conducted by the Associated Press, 80 percent of respondents said the lack of sufficient charging stations was one reason they wouldn’t buy an EV; 70 percent cited long charging times. But despite the public’s hesitation, the White House insists that switching to electric vehicles is the most important single thing we can do to fight climate change. In the administration’s reasoning, that goal is so vital that it merits overriding the desires of most American drivers.

But Biden’s EV policy is based on wishful thinking at best, and on an ignorance of environmental and technical realities at worst. For starters, the environmental benefits of EVs are exaggerated. Obviously, a pure-electric vehicle has no tailpipe emissions. But how clean are the power plants producing the electricity the vehicle consumes? And what about all the carbon emissions and environmental degradation involved in mining and processing the minerals that go into an EV’s motors and batteries? Most of those dirty operations take place far from U.S. shores, but that doesn’t make their impact any less real. And, with its massive battery pack, a typical EV is more than 1,500 pounds heavier than a comparable internal-combustion vehicle. That extra weight means the car produces much more toxic dust as brakes and tires wear faster. Once all those costs are factored in, it’s an open question whether an EV’s lifetime environmental footprint is dramatically better than that of a modern hybrid vehicle.

Biden’s EV policy also largely ignores the problem of producing and delivering the massive amounts of electricity this planned fleet of EVs would demand. “Widespread adoption of EVs will require an unprecedented and staggeringly expensive expansion of local electrical grids,” write National Center for Energy Analytics director Mark Mills and my Manhattan Institute colleague Jonathan Lesser in the Wall Street Journal. Where today’s gas stations use as much electricity as a typical convenience store, the tens of thousands of proposed EV charging stations would each require enough electricity to power an entire town. Mills and Lesser estimate that the beefier transformers and other grid upgrades required to meet this demand could cost more than $1 trillion by 2035.

In March, the EPA finally released its official CO2 emissions rules. Some deadlines were slightly relaxed compared with the administration’s initial proposal. But the plan still forces automakers to limit internal-combustion vehicles to no more than 30 percent of their lineups by 2032. “This is a coerced phase-out of gas-powered cars,” the Journal opines. And they’re right.

Biden began his war on the internal-combustion engine with jawboning and incentives. But that only worked to a point. Today, it appears that most people interested in buying an EV already own one; the vast majority of new-car buyers are sticking with the all-gas vehicles they trust. So now the administration is putting the screws to automakers, forcing them to build only the vehicles the government allows, rather than the ones the public prefers. If people can’t be talked into going electric, Team Biden will simply regulate most gas-vehicle options out of the marketplace. In effect they’re saying, “If you like your car, you can keep your car (but you’ll never be able to buy another one like it”). All too typically, the president is making this sweeping change through a sneaky regulatory backdoor, rather than taking the proposal directly to Congress and the voters. And, like so many left-wing policies, Biden’s EV plan will massively disrupt the economy, cost taxpayers and consumers a fortune, and yet do surprisingly little to solve the problem it claims to address, in this case, reducing emissions.

Here’s my prediction: If Biden’s forced phase-out of new vehicles with internal-combustion engines prevails, in 25 years American towns will look like Havana, with vintage, lovingly preserved gas-powered cars cruising the streets. And here’s my advice: If an electric car makes sense for your lifestyle, great. If not, well, don’t forget those regularly scheduled oil changes. You’re going to want to hang on to that car.

Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

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