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Cash for Clunkers: The EV Edition

'Schumer Plan' would offer rebates for trading in gas-powered vehicles
Photograph: Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — In a twist on the federal “Cash for Clunkers” program that offered consumers rebates for trading in older vehicles, a new proposal from U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) would incentivize consumers to trade in gasoline-powered vehicles for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). The goal: have all U.S. passenger vehicles on the road be “clean” by 2040.

Schumer’s Clean Cars for America plan, announced in an October op-ed in The New York Times, has three parts:

  • Offer a yet unspecified but “substantial” cash voucher to vehicle owners who trade in their gas-powered cars and buy a U.S.-assembled plug-in electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Lower-income Americans could receive a bigger discount on a new vehicle or a discount on a used EV.
  • Establish a new grant program for states and local communities to build out an EV charging infrastructure, with a focus on low-income, rural and other underserved communities.
  • Offer “robust” incentives for auto manufacturers to build new U.S. factories or convert existing factories to assemble ZEVs or manufacture charging equipment. 

The actual introduction of the proposal as part of legislation would depend on the outcome of the 2020 election.

“If Democrats win control of the Senate in November 2020, I, as majority leader, will introduce bold and far-reaching climate legislation,” Schumer said in his op-ed. “This proposal for clean cars would be a key element of that bill.”

According to Schumer, consumers who trade in their gasoline-powered vehicle for a ZEV with the help of Clean Car Plan vouchers would effectively remove 63 million internal combustion engine vehicles from the road by 2030. According to IHS Markit, there were 278 million light-duty vehicles on the road in the U.S. in 2019, with an average age of 11.8 years. The Clean Car Plan would cost an estimated $454 billion over 10 years.

“New Yorkers are sick and tired of the dependence on gas stations, and it is high time to pursue a new front that will drive jobs, make new car purchases easier and less costly, while helping to kick carbon for good," Schumer said in announcing the plan’s benefits to his constituents. Schumer has helped encourage the successful passage of state legislation that requires New York state to achieve 100% greenhouse gas emissions reductions and transition to renewable energy by 2050.

Schumer’s plan is said to have the support of Ford and General Motors, as well as the United Auto Workers, among other groups.

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