EPA rules to push EV sales to new heights. What that means for Georgia

New limits on tailpipe emissions could make electrified vehicles more than 50% of new auto sales by 2032 as states look to boost charging infrastructure
Andrew Cornelia, President & CEO Mercedes-Benz High-Power Charging North America, speaks to guests and media members during unveiling the first station charger in North America on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023.
Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Andrew Cornelia, President & CEO Mercedes-Benz High-Power Charging North America, speaks to guests and media members during unveiling the first station charger in North America on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

The family car is increasingly going to be electric.

That is the likely and intended outcome of a new federal rule that will effectively limit the number of fossil fuel-powered passenger vehicles manufacturers can produce starting in 2027. The new tailpipe emission standards add regulatory pressure to a potent mix of incentives designed to push Americans toward electric vehicles, a shift that even critics say is inevitable.

Sales of EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids in the U.S. hit a record high in 2023 — but still only accounted for 16% of total light-weight vehicle sales. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which issued the new emissions standards for most consumer cars and trucks on March 20, estimated their market share could exceed 50% by 2032 when the full force of the regulation goes into effect.

The rules calculate pollutants emitted per mile on average across a manufacturer’s entire fleet. Regulated emissions include greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide as well as what are known as “criteria pollutants” like soot, ozone and nitrogen oxides.

While the regulation is technically neutral on how manufacturers meet the new standards, experts say the effect will be to force companies to build more EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids and to price them more competitively.

The new standards are looser than earlier draft rules that would have set a more aggressive timeline for implementation. The EPA came under intense pressure from automakers and dealers to weaken the standards amid signs EV sales growth is softer than many bullish projections.

But even the less strict rule was seen as an important step by EV advocates, who said it will greatly reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases and harmful pollutants.

“We are not going backwards,” said Anne Blair, vice president of policy at the Electrification Coalition. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime transition of a transportation system.”

Hyundai Motor Group is building a $7.6 billion EV factory near Savannah and its Kia sibling is incorporating electric models into its existing plant in West Point.

ELLABELL, GA - A water tower under construction at the edge of the Hyundai Metaplant site in Bryan County on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, Ellabell, Ga. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

On Wednesday, Hyundai’s North American leader José Muñoz told CNBC the company was re-evaluating whether what it calls the Metaplant will be purely EV, as the company is considering adding hybrid and plug-in hybrid models there.

“Everything is on the table,” Muñoz said. “We will adjust to the market demand and, for the time being, we are on track for what the regulators are requesting.”

A spokesperson for Hyundai wrote that the new rule “reaffirms the long-term direction of our industry toward electrification while acknowledging that the pace of change will depend on a range of factors.”

Kia struck a similar tone, saying the company “is committed to the electrification of personal transportation.” But the company added: “There are many factors outside the control of all automakers, including general consumer demand for EVs, direct to consumer incentives, and access to a sufficient and convenient charging infrastructure.”

Among the major manufacturers with a presence in Georgia, only Rivian, an electric truck maker that has no legacy gas-powered models, offered unequivocal support for the rule. The company recently announced it would pause development of its planned $5 billion manufacturing plant in southern Morgan and Walton counties and launch new models planned for Georgia in Illinois after experiencing a cash crunch.

Rivian has said the Georgia plant remains a big part of its future expansion plans. Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has about a 3% interest in Rivian.

Founder and CEO of Rivian RJ Scaringe speaks onstage during the Rivian Reveals All-Electric R2 Midsize SUV event at Rivian South Coast Theater on March 07, 2024 in Laguna Beach, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Rivian)

Credit: Getty Images for Rivian

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Credit: Getty Images for Rivian

Blair said it would be very difficult for a subsequent administration to roll back the regulations.

The EPA issued similar rules for heavy freight vehicles on Friday. Those standards were also met with mixed reaction: praise from climate and health advocates, and criticism from industries that said the shift was too rapid to be practical.

Lowering emission limits as domestic EV manufacturing ramps up will accelerate a transformation already underway in Georgia. Over the last few years, private companies have poured billions into new EV and battery production facilities in Georgia in response to lucrative federal and state incentives. At the same time, electric cars and trucks that were once curiosities have become more common and drivers have access to nearly 2,000 public charging locations in the state.

Georgia plans to build at least 35 more along major corridors that lack them using $135 million from the $7.5 billion allocated for public charging in the federal 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

Several United States Postal Service vans are seen charging during the unveiling of the first of tens of thousands of electric vehicles and charging stations deployed nationally to power the country's largest electric delivery fleet on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

John Hibbard of the Georgia Department of Transportation said his agency saw “a lot of interest” in the program, particularly from gas stations and fast food restaurants located next to highways. The first five chargers will be located at a Waffle House in Tifton, a Wendy’s in Fort Valley, a RaceTrac in Dublin, a Shell station in Metter, and a Love’s truck stop in Brunswick. Drivers will be able to pay by the kilowatt hour after Georgia passed a charging regulation law last year.

Hibbard said all of Georgia’s federally-funded chargers should be online by the time the new EPA rule takes effect, but he expects much of the charging network will be built out by private businesses.

“I think the view of Georgia’s EV charging landscape, infrastructure, will certainly be different, better, more robust than it is now,” Hibbard said.

Love’s, a national chain, has 85 chargers at store locations in 11 states, a spokesperson said in an email. The company has so far been awarded $24 million in federal grants for installations at 36 locations in 10 states, including Georgia.

Despite the influx of government funding and private sector interest, car dealers and manufacturers have said the government wants to put more EVs on the road than the market or the infrastructure can support.

Chuck Perrin, the CEO of Perrin Automotive Group, which has four dealerships in Georgia and one in Florida, opposes the new rule. He said he worries it will create a glut of fully-electric vehicles he can’t sell.

(Left to right) Gov. Brian Kemp shakes hands with Rivian Chief Legal Officer Michael Callahan after unveiling the first ever Rivian charging station at Tallulah Gorge State Park on Thursday, April 20, 2023.  (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Perrin said the concerns he hears most often from customers include the higher sticker price of EVs and anxiety about charging infrastructure, future service needs and range.

But he said sales of hybrids and plug-in hybrids are “exploding,” and he expects the demand for electric vehicles of all kinds to continue to grow as battery technology improves.

“They’re great products ... destined for a very prominent place in our future,” said Perrin, who drives a Toyota Tundra hybrid pickup. “It’s just that we want to make sure that, as the EPA regulations are finalized, that they’re done so in a way that takes into consideration affordability for customers.”

Thomas Boylan of the Zero Emission Transportation Association cast doubt on the idea that public charging is as big of a problem as the industry says, pointing out that most people will do most of their charging at home. He said the rules create certainty for companies that want to invest in manufacturing and charging, which should ultimately improve consumer choice.

In a few years, EVs will become ubiquitous, Boylan said.

“It will become so normalized that it won’t even warrant a second thought in most folks’ minds,” he said.

A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with Green South Foundation and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at ajc.com/donate/climate/