GM hits reverse on Trump effort to bar California emissions rules

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – General Motors said on Monday it was reversing course and will no longer back the Trump administration’s effort to bar California from setting its own emissions rules in an ongoing court fight.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said in a letter to environmental groups it was “immediately withdrawing from the preemption litigation and inviting other automakers to join us.”

The dramatic rejection of Trump came as GM sought to work with President-elect Joe Biden, who has made boosting electric vehicles (EVs) a top priority. The Detroit automaker has laid out an ambitious strategy to boost EV sales and last week said it will increase spending on EVs and autonomous vehicles by 35% from previous disclosed plans.

The announcement reflects corporate America’s move to engage quickly with the incoming Democratic administration.

Barra said she believes “the ambitious electrification goals of the president-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions.”

The White House did not immediately comment.

In October 2019, GM joined Toyota Motor Corp, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and other automakers in backing the Trump administration in its bid to bar California from setting its own fuel efficiency rules or zero-emission requirements for vehicles.

California and 22 other states and environmental groups challenged the Trump administration’s determination that federal law bars California from setting stiff tailpipe emission standards and zero-emission vehicle mandates.

Barra was among corporate and labor leaders that met virtually last week with Biden.

Speaking on Monday, Barra said she was “confident that the Biden Administration, California, and the U.S. auto industry, which supports 10.3 million jobs, can collaboratively find the pathway that will deliver an all-electric future.”

The Trump administration in March finalized a rollback of fuel efficiency standards to require 1.5% annual increases in efficiency through 2026, well below the 5% yearly boosts in Obama administration rules it discarded.

Other automakers, such as Ford Motor Co, Honda Motor Co and Volkswagen AG, which announced a deal with California in 2019 on emissions requirements that was finalized in August, did not intervene on the administration’s side in the California fight.

Toyota said Monday that “given the changing circumstances, we are assessing the situation, but remain committed to our goal of a consistent, unitary set of fuel economy standards applicable in all 50 states.”

Other automakers backing the Trump administration include Hyundai Motor Co , Mazda, Nissan Motor Co, Kia Motors Corp and Subaru Co.

GM had drawn the ire of many California officials and environmental groups.

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign, said “GM tried to prevent California from protecting its people from tailpipe pollution. They were wrong. Now the other automakers must follow GM and withdraw support for (President Donald) Trump’s attack on clean cars.”

In September, California Governor Newsom said the state planned to ban the sale of new gasoline powered passenger cars and trucks starting in 2035 in a bold move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

California is the largest U.S. auto market, accounting for about 11% of all U.S. vehicle sales, and many states choose to adopt its green vehicle mandates.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

California vows to ban sale of new gasoline-powered passenger vehicles in 2035

By David Shepardson and Nichola Groom

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California plans to ban the sale of new gasoline powered passenger cars and trucks starting in 2035 in a dramatic move to shift to electric vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday.

Newsom told a press conference the state was committing to a “firm goal” to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 and was encouraging other states to take similar action.

Newsom’s order labeled the elimination of gasoline-powered vehicles a “goal” and a “target” after his office said earlier his order would require the sale of nothing but zero emission passenger vehicle starting in 2035.

The move would be the most significant to date by a U.S. state aimed at ending the use of internal combustion engines for passenger travel.

California is the largest U.S. auto market, accounting for about 11% of all U.S. vehicle sales, and many states choose to adopt its green vehicle mandates.

Newsom also wants the state legislature to stop issuing new permits by 2024 allowing use of hydraulic fracturing technology for oil and gas drilling.

U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to bar California from requiring the sale of electric vehicles, while his rival Joe Biden has pledged to spend billions to speed the adoption of electric vehicles.

California said it was joining 15 countries that have made similar pledges, including Britain.

California’s clean vehicle goals have not always come to pass and in some cases have been pushed back.

Newsom said the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will develop regulations to mandate that 100% of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. The board also plans to mandate by 2045 that all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles be zero emission where feasible.

Newsom’s executive order does not prevent Californians from owning gasoline-powered cars or selling them on the used car market.

In response to a record wildfire season in the state, Newsom earlier this month said California needed to “fast track” its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. “Across the entire spectrum, our goals are inadequate to the reality we are experiencing,” he said on Sept. 11 while touring a burned area in the state.

A group representing major automakers including General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen AG said “neither mandates nor bans build successful markets.”

The group noted electrified vehicles account for less than 10% of new vehicle sales in California, which is still best in the United States.

California and nearly two dozen other U.S. states have sued the Trump administration, which has rolled back Obama era vehicle emissions standards and sought to undo California’s authority to set strict car pollution rules.

The administration has been waging a multi-pronged battle to counter California’s efforts to fight climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses from vehicles.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)

Uber promises 100% electric vehicles by 2040, commits $800 million to help drivers switch

By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc on Tuesday said every vehicle on its global ride-hailing platform will be electric by 2040, and it vowed to contribute $800 million through 2025 to help drivers switch to battery-powered vehicles, including discounts for vehicles bought or leased from partner automakers.

Uber, which as of early February said it had 5 million drivers worldwide, said it formed partnerships with General Motors and the Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi alliance.

In addition to the vehicle discounts, Uber said the $800 million includes discounts for charging and a fare surcharge for electric and hybrid vehicles, the cost of which would be partially offset by an additional small fee charged to customers who request a “green trip.”

Uber said that vehicles on its rides platform in the United States, Canada and Europe will be zero-emission by 2030, taking advantage of the regulatory support and advanced infrastructure in those regions.

The deals with GM and the Renault alliance focus on the U.S., Canada and Europe. Uber said it was discussing partnerships with other automakers.

Uber’s plan follows years of criticism by environmental groups and city officials over the pollution and congestion caused by ride-hail vehicles and calls for fleet electrification.

Lyft Inc, Uber’s smaller U.S. rival, in June promised to switch to 100% electric vehicles by 2030, but said it would not provide direct financial support to drivers.

Uber said its goal is to reduce the overall cost of ownership for electric vehicles, which are currently more expensive than gasoline cars.

The company also released data on its emission footprint and said it would publish reports going forward.

Before the pandemic, electric cars accounted for only 0.15% of all U.S. and Canadian Uber trip miles – roughly in line with average U.S. electric car ownership. At around 12%, the share of plug-in hybrid and hybrid cars was roughly five times as high as the U.S. average.

Ride-hail trips overall account for less than 0.6% of transportation-sector emissions, according to U.S. data, but the total number of on-demand vehicles has significantly increased since Uber’s launch nearly a decade ago, with 7 billion trips last year, according to Uber’s February investor presentation.

Uber said its U.S. and Canadian trips with a passenger produce 41% more carbon dioxide per mile than an average private car once miles spent cruising between passengers are included.

Uber’s plans could be a boon to the auto industry. Stricter environmental regulation, particularly in Europe, is forcing automakers to invest billions to overhaul their operations while consumer demand for electric vehicles remains subdued. Uber is also working with BP, EVgo and other global charging providers to provide discounts and expand the location of charging stations for ride-hail drivers – generally considered a main hurdle to wider EV adoption. Beginning on Tuesday, all U.S. and Canadian Uber drivers in a fully battery-powered electric vehicle will receive $1 extra per trip, and an additional 50 cents in major U.S. cities if passengers choose to pay extra when booking a “green trip.”

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Peter Henderson and Leslie Adler)

15 U.S. states to jointly work to advance electric heavy-duty trucks

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of 15 U.S. states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday unveiled a joint memorandum of understanding aimed at boosting the market for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and phasing out diesel-powered trucks by 2050.

The announcement comes weeks after the California Air Resources Board approved a groundbreaking policy to require manufacturers to sell a rising number of zero-emission vehicles, starting in 2024 and to electrify nearly all larger trucks by 2045.

The 14 states said the voluntary initiative is aimed at boosting the number of electric large pickup trucks and vans, delivery trucks, box trucks, school and transit buses, and long-haul delivery trucks, with the goal of ensuring all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales be zero emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2050 with a target of 30% ZEV sales by 2030.

The states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Vermont.

The states committed to developing a plan within six months to identify barriers and propose solutions to support widespread electrification, including potential financial incentives and ways to boost EV infrastructure.

Trucks and buses represent 4% of U.S. vehicles, but account for nearly 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

California’s mandate will put an estimated 300,000 zero-emission trucks on the road by 2035. California’s planned rules will initially require 5%-9% ZEVs based on class, rising to 30%-50% by 2030 and nearly all by 2045.

The push comes as a rising number of companies – including Rivian, Tesla Inc., Nikola Corp., and General Motors work to introduce zero emission trucks.

Major businesses like Amazon.com, UPS and Walmart have also said they are ramping up purchases of electric delivery trucks.

California later plans to adopt new limits on nitrogen oxide emissions, one of the major precursors of smog, as well as require large fleet owners to buy some ZEVs.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Hogue)

Senators push for U.S. to expand mining for electric vehicle supply chain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators voiced bipartisan support on Tuesday for the expansion of domestic mining and minerals recycling, part of a push to jumpstart the country’s electric vehicle supply chain and offset China’s rising dominance in the fast-growing space.

“China is consolidating control of the entire supply chain for clean technologies,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Republican chair of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said at a hearing. “The United States is falling behind … and allowing that to happen is a strategic mistake.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder)

U.S. faces hurdles in push to build electric vehicle supply chain

One of Albemarle's lithium evaporation ponds reflects the sky at its facility in Silver Peak, Nevada, U.S., January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ernest Scheyder

By Ernest Scheyder

(Reuters) – The United States faces stiff challenges as it moves to create its own electric vehicle supply chain, industry analysts say, with the extent of the country’s metal reserves largely unknown and only a few facilities to process minerals and produce batteries.

Legislation making its way through the U.S. Congress aims to help offset those gaps, but China remains the global EV sector leader, a dominance seen by some as difficult to supplant. Even some U.S. mines are caught in China’s orbit, with domestic production of so-called rare earth minerals reliant on Chinese processing and now caught up in the U.S.-China trade conflict.

“China has a huge head start,” said Gavin Montgomery, a battery and mining analyst at the Wood Mackenzie consultancy. “They’ve just been at this a lot longer than the rest of the world.”

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, this month introduced the American Mineral Security Act to help streamline regulation and permitting requirements for the development of mines for lithium, graphite and other EV minerals.

The bipartisan legislation, which seeks in part to codify a late 2017 executive order on U.S. mineral development by President Donald Trump, gets its first hearing before Murkowski’s committee on Tuesday.

“We have an opportunity here to move ourselves from this position of vulnerability in terms of reliance on others for our minerals, our EV supply chain,” said Murkowski, an Alaska Republican.

But just how much cobalt and other minerals used to make EVs are actually in the United States is anyone’s guess, as the nation has conducted little by way of a national survey.

Current estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey rely on corporate annual reports, historical data from the U.S. Bureau of Mines and other sources, according to USGS spokesman Alex Demas.

Finding out the mineral composition of a particular region requires sending staff into the field to take rock samples, a timely and expensive endeavor. Murkowski’s legislation would require a nationwide reserve analysis for all minerals used to make EVs.

USGS data show, for example, that the United States has 35,000 tonnes of lithium in reserve, a figure that the agency and industry executives see as conservative.

Albemarle Corp operates the only U.S. lithium mine, a facility with the capacity to produce about 6,000 tonnes annually. According to current USGS data, that means that one mine could deplete U.S. reserves within six years.

Several lithium projects are under development across the nation, including those from ioneer Ltd, Lithium Americas Corp and Piedmont Lithium Ltd. Each aims to produce at least 20,000 tonnes of lithium per year, according to corporate presentations.

Beyond physical reserves, concerns about the lack of U.S. processing facilities are also cause for worry.

China controls about 85 percent of the globe’s cobalt sulfate processing, according to WoodMac data. Cobalt sulfate is the version of the metal used in lithium-ion batteries.

eCobalt Solutions Inc aims to produce 1,500 tonnes per year of cobalt once its Idaho project opens, though that is only enough of the metal to make about 300,000 EVs.

The United States does have some processing capability. Albemarle and rival Livent Corp process some lithium domestically. Syrah Resources Ltd mines graphite in Mozambique and ships it to Louisiana for processing for use in making battery parts.

The United States is also reliant on China for rare earth processing, a group of 17 elements used to make electric vehicles and consumer electronics.

California’s Mountain Pass mine, owned by MP Materials, must pay a 25 percent tariff to ship rare earths it extracts from its California mine to China for processing, the collateral damage in the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.

“All we seek is a level playing field to compete as a low-cost producer so we can help establish an EV supply chain in the United States,” said James Litinsky, co-chairman of MP Materials.

But those facilities tend to be the exception and investors so far have been wary of funding new U.S. projects in part due to China’s dominance, with concerns that any investment would be difficult to recoup.

“Ultimately, these projects have to stack up economically, even if U.S. politicians make it easier to get permitting,” said WoodMac’s Montgomery.

 

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Dan Grebler and Susan Thomas)