Is Trump presidency the real market test for electric cars?

Trump has criticized climate science among other interesting statements, but he does not appear to be on record directly concerning electric cars.

Benoit Tessier/ Reuters/ File
The Tesla Model X car is displayed on media day at the Paris auto show in Paris, France, on September 29, 2016.

One week ago this morning, the US and the world woke up to learn that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States.

The shockwaves of that election are still reverberating, and will do so for quite some time to come.

Among the groups concerned are environmentalists, clean-energy advocates, and electric-car proponents.

Trump has called climate science "bullshit," among other interesting statements, but he does not appear to be on record directly concerning electric cars.

Many of his campaign statements have also directly contradicted each other, making it difficult to ascertain what his actual policies might hold.

This site will take a longer look at what policy effects the Trump presidency may have on decarbonization, clean energy, environmental policy, and zero-emission vehicles in a series of future articles.

Meanwhile, what's left for the auto industry is greatly increased uncertainty, as was pointed out in an article in industry trade journal Ward's Auto by Steven Szakaly, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association.

And in general, the global automakers do not like uncertainty.

The most recent case in point came in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, which refused to issue new rules for corporate average fuel economy after the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had a duty to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from motor vehicles.

By early 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated, the industry was less than two years away from the 2012 model year—and had no idea what fuel-economy standards it would have to meet that year.

Given the billion-dollar investments over multi-year periods automakers have to commit to, that is not a situation any of them remotely relish.

Still, the Trump presidency boosts the chances that emission rules, fuel-economy requirements, perhaps even assembly-plant locations will be upended if the administration abrogates existing laws or passes new legislation to change it.

Meanwhile, electric-car fans worry more specifically about two specific issues.

The first is that the $7,500 federal income-tax credit for purchase of an electric car with a battery of at least 16 kilowatt-hours will be eliminated.

The second is the possibility that the Trump Administration will try to abolish the EPA waiver that has for more than three decades has granted California the right to set its own, stricter emission standards—including requirements for sales of zero-emission vehicles that are set to rise sharply starting in 2018.

It remains entirely unclear how or whether any, some, or all of this will transpire.

But perhaps these possibilities point to a more genuine market test for the appeal of plug-in electric cars.

Advocates have long said that when electric cars with 200 miles or more of range enter the market at affordable prices, their obvious advantages will produce a large natural buyer base and sales will increase.

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, this site's Best Car To Buy award winner, will be at dealers around the country by next summer.

It will be followed by a second-generation Nissan Leaf, perhaps the Tesla Model 3, and even a 200-mile version of the Hyundai Ioniq Electric—and a slew of additional 200-mile cars from almost a dozen makers by 2020.

So it is at least possible that the four years of the Trump Administration could test the truth of some advocates' assertions that electric cars will sell on their own merits with enough range and low enough prices.

For the sake of the environment, the industry, and the hard work of those advocates, that's an outcome to be hoped for.

But in the current environment, it's also one that's entirely unclear—like most other things in these "interesting" times we seem to live in.

This story originally appeared on GreenCarReports.

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