The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed ambitious auto emissions rules that could significantly change the kinds of cars and trucks on sale in the United States — but not right away.
The regulations, if carried out, will effectively require automakers to replace fossil fuel cars with electric vehicles starting with cars for the 2027 model year as part of President Biden’s larger effort to address climate change. Ultimately, the administration wants two-thirds of all new cars sold in the country to have zero emissions by 2032.
The proposal, put forward by the Environmental Protection Agency, is likely to accelerate a transition to electric cars that is already underway. It is also sure to create a lot of confusion for people who drive cars but do not closely follow the auto industry and emissions regulations.
What do the new fuel-emissions rules mean for me as a driver and car buyer?
Even if adopted as proposed, the rules will have no major impact on consumers for at least a few years. The rules will not require Americans to buy a new car or to sell the one they own now, and car dealerships will still sell models similar to the vehicles that people are used to driving.
Things will start to change in 2027, when the government will begin imposing tougher standards on the emissions from cars and trucks. Over time, automakers will find that the only way they can comply with those tightening regulations is by selling more electric cars, which release no pollution from tailpipes, and fewer conventional combustion-engine cars.
Is this a good time to buy an electric car?
That depends on your circumstances.
For much of the last two decades, electric cars tended to appeal only to affluent early adopters or people very committed to protecting the environment. The vehicles available tended be luxury models that cost a lot more than comparable gasoline vehicles or that were very small. The cars couldn’t travel far before needing a charge, and finding a place to plug them in could be incredibly difficult.
But much of that has changed recently. Tesla, Ford Motor and other carmakers have recently cut prices for battery-powered models like the Model 3 and the Mustang Mach-E, and some now cost less than similar gasoline models, or nearly so. General Motors and other companies will introduce even cheaper models this year, like an electric Chevrolet Equinox sport-utility vehicle that is expected to start at around $30,000. And many electric models can be driven comfortably for 200 miles or more before recharging.
Electric vehicles are generally cheaper to operate because the electricity needed to move them tends to cost less than the equivalent amount of gasoline. They are also cheaper to maintain.
What is happening with federal tax credits for electric cars?
Electric cars assembled in the United States currently qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, but the rules governing those incentives will change on Tuesday. A certain percentage of the components and minerals in vehicle batteries will have to come from North America or countries with which the United States has a trade agreement.
Tesla, G.M., Ford and other automakers have already said that some of their electric cars will no longer qualify for credits or will qualify for only a partial credit.
Electric vehicles assembled in Germany, Japan, South Korea and other countries will remain ineligible. The government also limits eligibility based on how much a car, truck or S.U.V. costs and how much individuals and couples earn in a year.
I can’t find an electric vehicle that meets my needs. Are there other options?
Some people will probably conclude that an electric car is not right for them, for now. They may need a pickup truck that can haul heavy loads and trailers over long distances — something today’s battery-powered trucks are not very good at. Or they may live in apartments or rental homes where they cannot install a dedicated electric-vehicle charger and there aren’t many public chargers available nearby.
In such situations, you could consider hybrid or plug-in hybrid cars without making the full leap to an electric vehicle. Many automakers offer hybrids, which have a combustion engine, a battery and an electric motor. These cars tend to be more expensive than conventional vehicles, but owners can recoup that higher cost by saving on fuel. How much you have to drive to come out ahead will depend on the model.
One thing to keep in mind is that electric-vehicle technology is changing fast and industry experts believe that these cars will only get better and more affordable. So your best option might be to make do with the car you are driving for another couple of years until you see a battery-powered model that makes sense for you.