Features
31 Aug 20

What a Biden presidency would mean to fleet managers

Joe Biden has been ahead of Donald Trump in US polls for most of this year, hovering around 50% of the votes with occasionally a ten-percent lead. For the country as a whole, but also for fleet managers, things could look very different if Joe Biden were to win the presidency.

Joe Biden (Dem.) presented a climate plan that is more ambitious than what can be expected of the incumbent president, former reality TV star Donald Trump (Rep.). Nevertheless, it will not be a strong departure from what Americans are used to, as it is very much car-centric, focusing in large part on improving infrastructure and on decarbonising the automotive industry.

Even under a Biden presidency, environmental and mobility policies will remain very much car-centric, with far less attention to alternatives like public transport.

Cash for Clunkers, the electric sequel

A Biden administration would embrace a $400 billion Senate proposal to provide consumers rebates to swap old, less-efficient vehicles for newer American vehicles built from materials and parts sourced in the United States. If successful, this plan should remove more than 63 million petrol-powered vehicles off the road over 10 years.

The Biden plan should not be compared to the Obama era Cash for Clunkers, which has generally been seen as a dud. Research has since shown that Cash for Clunkers did little to stimulate the economy or to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Biden’s plan, however, has a much larger budget earmarked, spans a much larger period and excludes petrol-powered vehicles.

Details have not yet been published but even if the plan focuses on cars owned by private individuals, it will have an impact on what vehicles American carmakers will offer on the US market.

Tougher vehicle emission standards

Both contenders couldn’t be further from each other in terms of vehicle emission standards. Earlier this year, President Trump repealed stricter emission standards adopted by the Obama administration.

Under the Obama regulations, fuel economy standards were set to increase by 5% each year. Now, the Trump administration froze these standards at 2020 levels until 2026.

Joe Biden has vowed to toughen fuel economy standards to ensure 100% of new sales for light and medium duty vehicles will be electrified. What’s more, he plans to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions no later than 2050. More detailed figures and targets for vehicles are not yet available.

Infrastructure improvements

Much of America’s roads and bridges are in a sorry state of disrepair. President Trump promised to invest in public infrastructure but the results are spotty. Joe Biden plans to upgrade roads and bridges, mainly to the benefit of motorists. The plan also calls for investments in 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations.

Transit

Even though Joe Biden’s plans are very car-centric, they do include proposals to improve public transit in every American city with at least 100,000 residents, ranging from light rail networks to improving existing rail and bus lines and building infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. Previous versions of his infrastructure proposals also included calls for an extensive high speed rail network but those have since disappeared from his campaign website. Don’t hold your breath for a New York-Los Angeles high speed rail connection yet.

It is safe to say American car-culture will remain unchallenged, whoever wins the ticket to the White House. The status quo is far less certain in terms of car powertrains and the roads and bridges Americans drive on.

Image: Joe Biden in Henderson, Nevada, February 2020 (photographer: Gage Skidmore)

Authored by: Benjamin Uyttebroeck