A senior General Motors official pushed the Senate Thursday to help the electric vehicle market grow by facilitating the building of charging stations across the nation.
“On infrastructure, this committee has a unique opportunity to lay the foundation for the future," said Britta Gross, director of GM’s advanced vehicle commercialization, in testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a field hearing at the Washington Auto Show. GM has announced plans to introduce at least 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023.
“EV charging infrastructure today has grown from non-existent to over 17,000 public stations, but more is required,” she said. “This market will become more viable and competitive over time, but we have a long way to go.”
A top executive of Toyota, meanwhile, stressed his company’s commitment to electrifying the auto industry.
In December, Toyota announced its target to sell 5.5 million electrified vehicles per year globally by 2030. Toyota plans to introduce 10 new battery-powered electric vehicles by the early 2020s.
Robert Wimmer, director of energy and environmental research for Toyota’s North American unit, urged senators to consider the potential of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, not just EVs.
"To ensure the U.S remains competitive in this space, the federal government needs to take a much more proactive role supporting hydrogen infrastructure growth,” Wimmer said in his testimony. "Without robust federal support for hydrogen infrastructure, possibly part of a national infrastructure program, the numbers of fuel cell vehicles on our roads will remain modest."
Last year, Americans bought nearly 200,000 electrified vehicles from more than a dozen manufacturers.
Moody's predicted this week that electric vehicles, which are now less than 1 percent of global car sales, will grow to 17 to 19 percent of the market by 2030.
Electric vehicles are benefiting from lower prices for lithium-ion batteries and technical advances that are increasing how far a car can drive before having to be recharged and reducing recharging times.
Lithium is a key component in the most common kind of electric car battery.
But some raw materials essential to electric vehicles remain scarce, and there is a shortage of places to recharge. Battery-powered cars cost thousands of dollars more than most gasoline vehicles.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he is concerned about China’s “monopoly” on minerals used in electric vehicles and what that means for manufacturers' ability to make affordable cars.
Three-quarters of the world’s reserves of lithium are in China and Chile, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“China’s monopoly in this space is concerning from both an economic and national security perspective,” Manchin said. “You can be shut down at any time. You can be choked out at any time.”
Gross tried to downplay that threat.
“We are trying to streamline the use of those materials, and reduce the amount of cobalt and lithium in our systems so they are still safe, but where we can reduce the cost,” she said. “That is part of the learning process of developing and innovating.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, expressed support for electric vehicles, but vowed to pursue “neutral” policies.
“This is an exciting time for the auto sector,” Murkowski said. “Battery prices are falling, a new generation of batteries are powering electric vehicles. Consumption has increased for alternative fuel vehicles. Here in the U.S., we are going to do what we do best, and that’s innovate. It’s important our federal policies are modern, neutral and working as intended. We can't make folks buy things they don't want. It's how we are communicating with the public on what is happening with these advancements and how they might benefit you.”