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New emissions rules can only be met if automakers can sell lots of EVs soon

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

If the EPA gets its way, there will be a whole lot more electric cars on the dealership lot in the future. Under proposed emission standards unveiled last week, carmakers would need around two-thirds of their sales to be electric vehicles by 2032. Keith Barry, an autos reporter for Consumer Reports, says that means cheaper EVs, too.

KEITH BARRY: Because you can't get to those numbers selling vehicles that are, you know, around $60,000, which is where the average EV is right now. You need more mass-market vehicles.

CHANG: Great news if you want to buy an electric vehicle in a decade. Right now, there are tax incentives for buyers, but only on certain vehicles. So I asked Keith Barry to list some reasons why someone looking to buy a car now should consider an EV apart from, you know, trying to do the right thing for the environment.

BARRY: You have this incredible performance. You know, these cars are posting 0 to 60 times that would have made a, you know, a muscle car make it onto the cover of Road & Track 15 years ago.

CHANG: (Laughter).

BARRY: And, you know, they're family vehicles. You might save some money on fuel costs as well. That's different depending upon the car and depending upon the region of the country. But in general, you'll probably save some money on fuel. So there are all these great things about the cars themselves, but you'd have to have some money in order to do so.

CHANG: Yeah.

BARRY: There are only a couple of inexpensive EVs on the market.

CHANG: OK. Well, besides purchase price, what would be other reasons to potentially wait before getting an electric vehicle?

BARRY: One reason to wait is because there are just going to be more EVs on the market. You know, GM is coming out with some affordable EVs. Another reason to wait might be if you don't have a place to charge an EV - either at home, if you have to get a charger installed or if you're trying to drive somewhere, you know, where there just isn't an adequate charging infrastructure. And that's something that there are also going to be massive investments in. You know, the more EVs that are guaranteed to hit the market, well, that means that there are going to have to be more places for them to be plugged in to charge while on a road trip.

CHANG: Well, what if you're out there and you're thinking to yourself, maybe I should buy a used EV? What are the trade-offs?

BARRY: The biggest trade-off is there just aren't that many used EVs. EVs are only about a little more than 5% of the new car market now, and they were way less than that last year and the year before. The good news is that for the first time, buyers have of EVs, as long as they meet, certain income thresholds can get a tax credit of up to $4,000. But that's only if you buy a car from a dealership. And that's only if it's a one-owner vehicle, if it hasn't already been resold. So the car can only get that tax credit once.

CHANG: Now, you mentioned tax credits. Of course, tax credits are going to be a factor in the decision for a lot of people. And the government is planning to make an announcement on which actual vehicle models qualify for specific tax credits this year. Can you explain more about that? What exactly is happening? And how can people shopping for cars currently navigate through all of that?

BARRY: This was kind of a weird year for the EV tax credit because a lot of things changed and kept changing. Starting in April 18, the $7,500 tax credit is going to be divided into two parts. So for the first half, at least 50% of a vehicle's battery components have to be produced or assembled in North America. For the second half, at least 40% of the critical minerals used in the battery must be extracted or processed in the U.S or they have to come from a country that's a U.S. free trade agreement partner, which is a list which is changing every day.

CHANG: Oh, my God.

BARRY: Or they have to be made from materials that have been recycled in North America.

CHANG: OK. So surely there is a list of exactly which models qualify, right?

BARRY: Yes. There is and it's changing. But even when you look at that, sometimes cars are made in different factories. So I know at least one automaker, General Motors, they're going to have a website that you can go to, and you can plug in the vehicle identification number of the individual car you're looking at and see if it qualifies. So, you know, this is really easy for the consumer to figure this out.

CHANG: Keith Barry is an autos reporter for Consumer Reports. Thank you so much for joining us today.

BARRY: Thank you. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

William Troop
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.