WHITE HOUSE - Within nine years, half of all new vehicles sold in the United States should be zero-emission cars and trucks, according to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden.
The future of the automobile industry is electric, "and there's no turning back," the president said during a White House South Lawn event Thursday afternoon.
Biden's target includes battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel cell electric vehicles.
In remarks to reporters after driving an electric Jeep around the South Lawn driveway, the president said that while the United States hesitated to embrace vehicle battery production, "China moved. China now owns the market. So, we just got to get back in the game."
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have announced moves to eliminate what Biden called the "short-sighted rollbacks" of near-term fuel efficiency and emissions standards set by the Trump administration.
"They also let the federal tax credit expire, penalizing auto workers, who were at the time selling the most electric vehicles in the world and the United States," added Biden.
Leading automotive manufacturers are making voluntary commitments in line with the administration's goals.
Ford, General Motors and Stellantis said in a joint statement Thursday they hope "to achieve sales of 40-50% of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles (battery electric, fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles) by 2030 in order to move the nation closer to a zero-emissions future consistent with Paris climate goals."
In a separate joint statement, automakers BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo are calling for a "strong nationwide greenhouse gas emissions standard, continued investments in charging infrastructure, and broad consumer incentives for all electric vehicle purchases."
Notably absent from the automakers' joint statements, which were also released by the White House, is Japan's Toyota, the top-selling carmaker in the United States.
"You can count on Toyota to do our part," Ted Ogawa, the automaker's North American chief executive, said in a statement. "This is great for the environment and helps protect the 436,000 American jobs of our employees, dealers, suppliers and other stakeholders in the U.S. Let's go!"
Toyota, which produced the Prius, the world's first mass-produced hybrid car, has expressed less enthusiasm for all-electric vehicles, while embracing a costlier technology of hydrogen fuel cells.
Toyota has been fighting stricter car emissions standards and electric vehicle mandates in several major countries, including the United States, according to The New York Times.
An industry lobbying group is also displaying a caution flag. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation calls the Biden administration's goals a "challenge," adding that all levels of government will need to do their part for the plan to succeed.
Biden's actions and the automotive industry's response are being praised by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which calls transportation the biggest source of climate pollution in the United States.
"The Big Three and other automakers have invested billions of dollars in developing zero-emitting vehicles - a testament to the enormous economic, job and consumer benefits that these vehicles will deliver," EDF President Fred Krupp said in a statement sent to VOA.
"Now, we must all work together to build on that announcement and eliminate pollution from all new passenger cars by 2035, and all new freight trucks and buses by 2040. It's a goal that's ambitious but achievable. America can win this race, and our prize will be good jobs, savings at the gas pump for American families, cleaner air and a safer climate."
The American Petroleum Institute (API) said it and its member companies "support transportation initiatives that both reduce emissions and ensure affordable vehicle choices for Americans."
"The best way to accelerate U.S. climate progress is through an economy-wide carbon price policy rather than costly market mandates," Ron Chittim, the group's vice president of downstream policy, said in a statement to VOA.
The petroleum industry has pledged to improve the environmental performance of its fuels, contending vehicles powered by modern combustion engines or batteries can produce comparable greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing to retirement.
API, which is the national trade association for the oil and natural gas industry, is also calling for the EPA to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions on a life cycle analysis approach to ensure consistent accounting and a level playing field across various fuel and vehicle technologies.
There are also concerns being expressed that Biden's goals cannot be met without relying on lithium and several specific rare earth minerals (neodymium, praseodymium, terbium and dysprosium), which are used for permanent magnets in the drive chains for electric vehicles.
Those elements "are mostly available only from China, which has acknowledged its poor track record for environmental protection in its mining and production of these minerals," according to Pini Althaus, chief executive officer of USA Rare Earth.
"The U.S. must have some level of domestic production or we simply will not be able to reach this goal," Althaus told VOA in a statement.
The strategic minerals mining company wants the United States to emulate Australia, Japan and South Korea and provide assistance to local producers of these materials.