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New Coalition Pushes Electric Vehicle Revolution Beyond California

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
Brands Taking Stands
Electric Vehicle Revolution

The Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance (CEVA) launched under the auspices of the green investor organization Ceres last week, with the stated aim of accelerating the electric vehicle revolution via fleet vehicles across the U.S. The move is significant because it demonstrates that corporate demand for electric vehicles (EVs) can still move the market on a national basis, despite conflicting policy signals from the U.S. federal government.

A 50-state drive for electric vehicles

Federal policymakers have been pushing back on the electric vehicles trend on two different fronts. One is the Department of Justice, which is challenging California’s longstanding leadership role in regulating auto emissions. The other is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has proposed dialing down fuel efficiency and pollution standards.

The new CEVA coalition appears designed to work around these policy changes by appealing directly to fleet buyers, starting with its own members.

Among fleeting-buying members of CEVA is Amazon, which has been coming under increased pressure from its own employees to take a more aggressive stand on climate action. Its affiliation with CEVA may indicate a more proactive stance on climate action in the coming years.

Other corporate fleet owners in the coalition have also become familiar names in the clean energy field and are now extending that interest to the transportation sector, including AT&T, Clif Bar, IKEA North America and DHL.

As electric utilities have a direct bottom-line interest in encouraging electric vehicle sales, CEVA also lists energy and technology stakeholders among its founding members, including Consumers Energy, Direct Energy, Genentech, LeasePlan, Lime and Siemens.

The number of fleet owners involved in the collaboration is relatively small so far, but together they account for a substantial number of vehicles. Together, they could help accelerate fleet electrification across the private sector by fostering economies of scale that lower costs for all buyers, including small and medium-sized businesses.

An electric vehicle revolution could move from fleets to individual car buyers

The impact of fleet electrification will all but inevitably ripple out to the market for personal cars.

According to Ceres, in the U.S. more than half of vehicles on the road today are under the business umbrella.

The question is whether or not businesses can be motivated to invest in electric vehicles. On that topic, Ceres considers the science settled.

Ceres makes a strong case for electric vehicles, citing lower fuel and maintenance costs, security from unpredictable fuel price spikes, and improved driver safety.

In addition, Ceres notes that electric vehicles can exercise a strong impact on the bottom line indirectly, by enhancing brand reputation and aiding in employee recruitment and retention.

Mixed signals on electric vehicles

CEVA is organized with two overlapping goals in mind. One is to motivate auto manufacturers to accelerate their investment in electric vehicles. The other is to work with state and federal policy makers in support of electric vehicle manufacturing.

Though federal policy is in flux, the attention to state-based policy already shows clear signs of a substantial payoff.

Just days after CEVA launched, GM announced a new $2.2 billion investment in electric vehicle manufacturing in Michigan, with an additional $800 million related to supply chain enhancements.

In a press release on January 27, GM president Mark Reuss credited Michigan policy makers with shepherding the new initiative.

“The support from the state of Michigan was a key element in making this investment possible,” he said, adding that “this investment helps ensure that Michigan will remain at the epicenter of the global automotive industry as we continue our journey to an electrified future.”

The move follows earlier GM investments in electrification in recent months, including a new energy storage laboratory and a new EV battery plant in partnership with the company LG Chem.

Selective hearing on electric vehicle signals

The new GM announcement also indicates that auto manufacturers may be paying more attention to policy signals coming from the U.S. Department of Energy than other branches of the administration.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been aggressively rolling back a long list of pollution standards, the Energy Department has continued to pursue clean technology at a rapid pace all throughout the current administration.

The GM announcement follows a series of major new funding initiatives launched by the Energy Department in January, aimed at improving EV batteries, increasing the efficiency of electric drive trains, pushing down costs, extending the EV charging network and integrating more electrification options into the transit sector.

Also of interest is a new round of funding for the agency’s H2@Scale initiative for hydrogen fuel. Though natural gas is currently the main source of hydrogen, the Energy Department has been pivoting to a focus on scaling up the production of renewable hydrogen for fuel cell EVs among other uses. That includes hydrogen fuel cell forklifts as well as trucks and delivery vans, an area of focus for Amazon among other CEVA members.

It looks like CEVA is off to a quick start. Regardless of whether or not California is able to maintain its leaderships role, all indications are that the electric vehicle market is poised for rapid acceleration.

Image credit: Chevrolet/GM

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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