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What a Biden presidency means for zero-emission and autonomous vehicles

More emissions regulations, more electrification, increased scrutiny of autonomous cars and trucks

The Freightliner eCascadia (Image: DTNA)

The incoming Biden administration is expected to increase regulatory oversight of electric and self-driving cars and trucks.

FreightWaves spoke to a few investors and analysts in the mobility and freight tech space, as well as the CEOs of a couple of autonomous trucking and delivery companies, about what they expect from a Biden presidency. Here are a few of the takeaways:

More electrification

Electric vehicle uptake in the United States has been tied to strong pollution reduction mandates and purchasing incentives found in Europe and Asia, said Reilly Brennan, partner, TrucksVC.

“A Biden administration likely moves some of our policies closer to what we see in other parts of the world,” he said.

Among the incentives Brennan sees coming down the pike is an “EV for clunkers” scheme as soon as next year, promoting and supporting people who turn in their vehicles for zero-emissions cars and trucks.

As venture capitalists continue to invest in zero-emissions startups, Brennan would like to see the Biden administration target public money for infrastructure — from EV chargers to hydrogen fueling.

More emissions regulations

Biden will inevitably restore strict fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards rolled back under the Trump administration, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal e-mobility analyst with Guidehouse Insights.

To wit: The EPA under Trump rolled back an Obama-era standard that imposed more stringent fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. 

Simultaneously the Trump administration sought to revoke a California waiver allowing the state to set its own greenhouse gas emissions standards.

Biden is expected drop the effort to revoke California’s waiver, said Abuelsamid, while the EPA under a Democratic administration (helmed possibly by the retiring head of the California Air Resources Board) will develop a more collaborative, less adversarial relationship with California air quality regulators.

“I expect the EPA to work with California to get more EVs on the road and get a national standard that everyone can agree on for CO2 regulations and adoption of electrification,” Abuelsamid said.

The other regulatory issue to watch, he noted, is federal tax credits for EVs, an incentive that drove consumer purchasing. Current federal policy dictates that incentives for purchasing EVs run out once an automaker’s sales hit 200,000. Many electric vehicle companies have run out of their allotted tax credit eligibility. 

The Democrats may move to extend and expand those tax credits, according to Abuelsamid, along with other incentives, although their success hinges on Democratic control of the Senate.

On autonomous vehicles, a heavier hand

The U.S. DOT under the Trump administration has been criticized for a lax approach to autonomous vehicle safety, Perhaps mindful of those criticisms, AV companies contacted by FreightWaves issued generic statements about autonomous vehicles improving road safety and their willingness to work with the new administration.

In an emailed statement to FreightWaves, Robert Brown, head of government relations and public affairs for the self-driving trucking technology startup TuSimple, noted President Barack Obama initiated the first AV guidance, providing a framework for manufacturers and developers for designing, testing and deploying self-driving cars and trucks.

That effort continued under the leadership of Trump administration, with the release of AV 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0. 

“Road safety is not a partisan issue,” Brown said, “and AVs’ promise of increased safety and a reduction of accidents will always be supported by US DOT.”

AV guidance under both the Obama and Trump administrations expanded AV testing, but Trump guidance did aim to relax the ability of federal safety regulators to police automated vehicle safety.

One leading company that did not want to speak publicly told FreightWaves they expect a Biden administration to take a more active, hands on approach to regulating autonomous vehicles.

Shawn Kerrigan, COO and cofounder, Plus, a self-driving trucking technology company, sent the following statement:

“Working together to safely bring automated trucks to market is good for everyone given that automated trucks will create societal and economic benefits of increased safety, improved fuel efficiency, and reduced carbon emissions,” he said.

“We welcome strong and clear safety-focused regulations at the local, state and federal levels that are necessary to provide the industry and consumers the confidence needed to roll out this transformative technology.”

Related stories:

Yang would anoint ‘trucking czar’ if elected president

EV roundup: LA mayor seeks proposals on zero-emission drayage technology


  1. Steve

    This is what happens when liberal desk jockeys write stories they think they know trucking and how its done and their decision is the only official ending.

    1. Steve H.

      I’m not sure what you’re saying here. I’m against most all government regulation in trucking and I’ll agree that most reporters and editors are liberal biased. What is it in this article that you don’t agree with or you feel is liberal biased? Do you not think that Biden will bring more government regulation to the trucking industry?

  2. Frank Hammond

    “The incoming Biden administration” hey Linda – didn’t know you were an official vote counter! So you have the authority to call the election?

    1. Steve H.

      I voted for the red team and I cringe at the thought of the consequences from the progressive agenda that will be pushed by a Biden administration. But it’s
      time to face up to the fact that Trump lost and once again deal with an administration that will heavily regulate industry, forcing it to move forward in a way that is dictated by a political ideology and not driven by a free market.

Comments are closed.

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected].