America’s EV Drive Will Go Beyond The 2024 Election, Federal Highway Chief Says

As the United States ambles toward a very contentious and consequential election season, the two leading presidential candidates could not be further apart on the eventual transition to electric vehicles. But even if the White House gets a new (or returning) occupant after November, the Biden Administration’s highway transportation chief has this to say about EVs: that ship has already sailed. 

Shailen Bhatt, the Administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, said he believes a global shift toward EVs is underway, and that the country and the automakers who operate here can’t afford to be left out. 

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Policy decisions drive EV growth

China’s rise to electric vehicle dominance was heavily driven by government subsidies, incentives and funding to various homegrown automakers. Policy experts say similar approaches are needed to transition away from fossil fuels in the U.S., Europe and beyond. 

“My sense is even if the election goes differently, and President Biden isn’t reelected, that the country will still continue on this pace,” Bhatt told InsideEVs in an interview. “Automobile manufacturers were making these investments before President Biden became the president, and they’re making them because they’re looking at global trends, not politics in the United States.” 

 

Those are strong words from a Biden Administration appointee. But ahead of his keynote speech today at the EV Charging Summit and Expo in Las Vegas, Bhatt said both global business trends—and the fact that former President Donald Trump once lobbied to build electric trucks at a former General Motors plant, before he was so against EVs—proves this technology is on a growth curve agnostic of politics. 

In recent months especially, the idea of EVs and whether Americans are being “forced” into them has become a hot-button campaign issue.

GM Energy Charging

Biden’s policies overwhelmingly support EV adoption over time with federal funding for EV fast chargers, which Bhatt’s FHWA is partly responsible for doling out, as well as stricter fuel economy and emissions rules that will lead to a majority-electric market someday. Trump, Biden’s likely opponent, has vehemently opposed those plans and said an EV push will be a “bloodbath” for the car industry. Meanwhile, research shows a very clear partisan divide about EVs, even as people on all sides express lingering concerns about cost, range and charging. And even as the rate of EV adoption is slowing somewhat, Bhatt said he’s encouraged by the number of more affordable models coming to market. 

“I just want to try to separate the politics from the facts,” Bhatt told InsideEVs in an interview. “While there’s a lot of debate out there, what is unquestionable is that 10% of American car sales were [plug-in cars] last year, but 30% in China, and the EU is developing stronger and stronger requirements for clean air.” 

 

Bhatt has led the FHWA, which provides financial and technical assistance to state and local governments for America’s highways, since 2022. A longtime veteran of the transportation policy space, Bhatt’s agency has overseen grants to states for EV charging under the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

Under the latter, states can apply for funding for EV chargers and then take bids from contractors to actually build them. The program came under some fire in December when Politico reported that none had been opened yet, calling the program “sluggish” and a potential black eye for Biden’s reelection bid. 

A few months later, Bhatt said, and the program has seen dramatic improvements. Since then, National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI)-funded chargers have gone up in New York, Ohio and other places, the “majority of states” have proposals to build them out there as well, he added.

“I wish they had waited like a month or two,” Bhatt said of that report. “New York, Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, Hawaii… I think about a dozen now that either have cut the ribbon or are about to cut the ribbon. Can you unspool $7.5 billion of funding, working with states and working with the private sector much faster? I don’t think so.”

2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV Work Truck with DC fast charger

Still, the U.S. government has its work cut out for it on the charging front.

A recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicates the U.S. will need about 28 million EV chargers of various types—private and public, AC and DC—by 2030, about a tenfold increase from where the country is currently. Still, there is progress; Biden Administration officials claim fast-charging ports increased by more than 70 percent in 2023 alone. 

Bhatt said that he sees applications coming in regularly from states even where Biden and his agenda may not be overwhelmingly popular. 

“You know who isn’t political about EVs? Governors,” he said, including ones like Georgia and Alabama, where EVs are built. “No governor is out there saying, well, when these EVs are driving through our state, we don’t want them to have a place to stop.” 

Bhatt said he already sees many car companies meeting at the moment, and he believes it’s in America’s best interest to do the same. 

“I think the part that we’re missing a little bit in all of these kinds of squabbles is that America was really successful as a nation, in no small part because of our success in the automotive industry, in the 20th century,” Bhatt said.

“If we want to be successful in the 21st century, we have to build the cars that are being bought out there,” he added. “It’s less about the last quarter or the last year and more about the decades-long trends.” 

Contact the author: patrick.george@insideevs.com