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Politics

We Fact Checked Everything Trump Has Said About Electric Vehicles Since 2021

They’ve become a stump speech punchline.

Donald Trump and EVs.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Donald Trump claims to be a “big fan” of electric vehicles despite making them a frequent target of derision on the campaign trail. He might be a bigger fan, though, if he got his facts straight. Here’s what Trump has gotten right and wrong about EVs since 2021.

“To China, if you’re listening — President Xi, you and I are friends, but he understands the way I deal. Those big monster car manufacturing plants that you are building in Mexico right now, and you think you are going to get that, not hire Americans, and you’re going to sell the car to us — no. We are going to put a 100% tariff on every single car that comes across the lot.” [March 16, 2024]

Fact check:There actually are no operating Chinese-owned EV factories in Mexico,” Ilaria Mazzocco, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an expert on Chinese climate policy, told me. “So this is very preemptive at this point.”

But it is also, probably, only a matter of time: BYD, which last year passed Tesla as the world’s No. 1 EV maker, is reportedly scouting plant locations in Mexico, and could confirm plans as soon as the second half of 2024. That has made U.S. automakers justifiably nervous. As Robinson Meyer previously wrote for Heatmap, “BYD recently advertised an $11,000 plug-in hybrid targeted at the Chinese market … Even doubling its price with tariffs would keep it firmly among [the United States’] most affordable new vehicles.”

In Mazzocco’s opinion, this isn’t wholly a bad thing — “there’s a point of value to competition that we shouldn’t forget” — and the threat of cheap Chinese EVs has already driven American automakers like Ford to pivot their electric lineups.

But “EVs have encapsulated everybody’s fears of competition with China,” Mazzocco said. The rude awakening has been that they are “actually better at something than the Americans are.” As a result, Biden and Trump are jostling to look tougher on Beijing ahead of the election, especially since big auto manufacturing states like Michigan and Ohio could potentially decide control of the White House. Biden has already ordered the Commerce Department to investigate the potential national security threat of Chinese-made EVs, which currently make up only about 2% of EV imports; Polestar became the first Chinese-owned EV company to make moves in the U.S. last year, but it’s hardly thriving. Meanwhile, Trump has warned that “it’s gonna be a bloodbath for the country” if he isn’t elected.

“If we build all the charging booths that are necessary, our country would go bankrupt. It would cost like $3 trillion. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” [Feb. 17, 2024]

Fact check: $3 trillion is a huge number, and it is also very inaccurate in this case. While there are valid concerns about the Biden administration’s high-speed electric vehicle push, Trump almost certainly got his “$3 trillion” price tag from the total cost of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which aims to address significantly more than just the country’s EV-charging infrastructure.

In fact, the BIL earmarks a comparatively small $7.5 billion for the development of 500,000 public charging stations, although even this is a “generational-level investment,” Noah Barnes, the communications director of the Electrification Coalition, told me. With just a fraction of $3 trillion, the U.S. will be able to jumpstart the “national network of EV chargers that will be necessary to power the next generation of vehicles and end our dependence on oil from countries that don’t share our values.”

But what would it cost to build and operate all the charging booths necessary to meet the current federal target of zero-emission cars making up half of new vehicle sales by 2030? A 2022 report from McKinsey & Company estimated that the U.S. will need “1.2 million public EV chargers and 28 million private EV chargers” by 2030 to meet Biden’s zero-emission sales goals. Those public chargers would cost about $38 billion, including the hardware, planning, and installation. Wrap in the cost to residences, workplaces, and depots, and the total cost of public and private charging installation approaches $97 billion. In a separate analysis, AlixPartners, a consulting firm, found that it would take $50 billion to build the charging infrastructure to meet the 2030 zero-emission vehicle goal in the U.S., and $300 billion worldwide.

Needless to say, though, there are a thousand billions in a trillion, so whatever way you cut it, it certainly would not cost the U.S. $3 trillion to build enough charging stations to accommodate zero-emission vehicles.

“I will also rescue the ethanol industry by canceling crooked Joe Biden’s insane ethanol-killing electric vehicle mandate on day one.” [Dec. 20, 2023]

Fact check: It’s not wrong to say that Biden has tried to reduce the role of liquid fuel in vehicles. Trump has gunned for Iowa voters by claiming Biden’s goal (albeit not a binding mandate) of ramping up EV sales will kill the local ethanol industry. But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — Iowa’s former governor — has stressed that just because the administration is pushing for more EVs, “Does that mean we won’t have a need for E15 or E85” — gasoline blends that contain up to 15% and 85% ethanol content, respectively — “in the future? No.”

For example, new rules defining what qualifies as a “sustainable aviation fuel” — and thus for generous tax credits under the IRA — include ethanol and other plant-based fuels, despite opposition from environmental groups. “The Biden administration plans to invest $4.3 billion to support production of 35 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel annually by 2050,” presenting a significant opportunity for Iowa’s farmers, The Des Moines Register writes. As Vilsack added, “You have to think beyond cars and trucks.”

“They want to have electric trucks, so a truck — a big, beautiful truck like Peterbilt or one of them, with the big ones, 18 wheelers, they can go about 2,000 miles, they say, 2,000 on a big tank of diesel. An electric truck, comparable — which it can’t be comparable because you need so much room for the battery. Most of the area that you’re going to carry your goods, going to be battery. But assuming we take away that problem, which is not easy to take away, you’d have to stop approximately seven times to go 2,000 miles, right? You go about 300 miles, and they don’t want to change that.” [Dec. 20, 2023]

Fact check: There’s a lot to unpack here, but the gist is that most of these are the kind of early-stage problems you would find with any emerging technology. While the technology powering heavy-duty electric trucks is promising, there is still a long way to go when it comes to range and capacity.

Still, even a semi that goes only around 375 miles — longer than Trump’s estimate — on a single charge would ultimately be cheaper than a diesel truck, one 2021 study found. Because of the lower cost of ownership, electric semis have a net savings of $200,000 over a 15-year lifespan.

Battery size, and in particular battery weight, will be a major hurdle for long haul electric semis; shipping rates are often determined based on weight, among other factors, and since freight companies already operate on narrow margins, carrying less freight weight is a problem. But the technology is constantly improving. Plus, it’s pretty silly to claim electric truck developers “don’t want to change” their range per charge; electric truck manufacturers are constantly boasting about their new mileage numbers.

“This electric car thing is just crazy. If you want to drive, maybe, let’s say you are here. If you say, ‘Let’s take a drive to beautiful, safe Chicago. It’s so safe. Let’s drive there.’ How many times would you have to stop, about nine? It’s just crazy. They know it. They know it’s crazy.” [Dec. 20, 2023]

Fact check: The distance from Waterloo, Iowa — where Trump made these comments — to “beautiful, safe Chicago” is 269 miles. While the EVs with the worst range would have to charge one single time on a trip of that distance, in 2022, the average EV range was nearly 300 miles. Most cars would make it on a single charge.

“And now we are a nation that wants to make our revered and very powerful army tanks, the best in the world, all-electric, so that despite the fact they are also not able to go far, fewer pollutants will be released into the air as we blast our way through enemy territory, at least in an environmentally friendly way. And they also want to make our jet fighters with a green stamp of energy savings through losing 15% efficiency.” [Dec. 17, 2023]

Fact check: Trump has repeatedly slammed the Biden administration for supposedly wanting to switch to “all-electric” tanks. This is mostly false, though it has its roots in the Army’s first-ever climate strategy, released early last year. In it, the Army stated that it aims to electrify all noncombat vehicles by 2035 and some tactical vehicles by 2050.

The reason the Army wants to go electric isn’t because of some woke environmentalist agenda, though. “The primary reason the Army wants to electrify its fighting vehicles is to reduce wartime casualties,” Bloomberg writes. “An all-electric fleet would mean personnel wouldn’t have to go on dangerous refueling missions that draw combat forces away from fighting the enemy … [and] electric vehicles are also much quieter and harder to spot on enemy surveillance systems because they generate so little heat.”

Trump has also slammed the Air Force for its climate action plan, although the roots of his claim that Biden wants to make jet fighters green by “losing 15% efficiency” are much less clear. He may be referring to the Air Force’s exploration of alternative fuels — which again, it is doing primarily for strategic reasons, since the Air Force reports 30% of the casualties in Afghanistan came from attacks on fuel and water convoys. “We’re not doing the climate plan for climate’s sake … Everything is about increasing our combat capability,” Edwin Oshiba, assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy, installations, and the environment, told the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

“The problem is you won’t find a charger. And if you do, it’s got lines.” [Dec. 16, 2023]

Fact check: Many EV drivers are dissatisfied with the state of charging infrastructure in the U.S., and lines are an issue. While more charging stations will continue to open up as EVs become more popular — the IRA allotted $7.5 billion to build out 500,000 public chargers by 2030, with another $623 million in EV charging grants awarded last week — this seems, at the moment, to be a fair criticism.

“We are a nation whose leaders are demanding all-electric cars despite the fact that they can’t go far, cost too much, and whose batteries are produced in China with materials only available in China when an unlimited amount of gasoline is available inexpensively in the United States but is not available in China.” [Dec. 17, 2023]

Fact check: China indeed dominates the EV battery market. The Inflation Reduction Act — which Trump has promised to gut — has tried to change this by restricting EV tax credits only to models with batteries and components sourced from the U.S. or its trading partners. The law also includes funding to help seed a domestic EV battery and mineral supply chain.

And it’s working. As my colleague Neel Dhanesha wrote last year, “Battery manufacturers around the country — many of them automakers themselves — have announced over 1,000 gigawatt hours of U.S. battery production that’s slated to come online by 2028, far outpacing projected demand,” according to estimates from the Environmental Defense Fund. All told, domestic battery production has been the greatest beneficiary of the IRA, reports RMI, a clean energy research group.

“Let’s say your [electric] boat goes down and I’m sitting on top of this big powerful battery and the boat’s going down. Do I get electrocuted?” [Oct. 1, 2023]

Fact check: Battery packs on electric boats are designed to be watertight because, believe it or not, it’s crossed the mind of electric boat manufacturers that their products could potentially end up underwater. All the electric boat makers I spoke to in my lengthy investigation into this question told me the battery packs they use have a waterproofing standard that is either at, or just below, what is required for a submarine. The high-voltage batteries are also kept in “puncture-resistant shells” so they won't be exposed to the water even if the boat somehow got mangled in an accident.

All this is a very long way of saying: No, you very likely won’t be electrocuted if your electric boat sinks. But you may get eaten by a shark!

“Hundreds of thousands of American jobs, your jobs, will be gone forever. By most estimates, under Biden’s electric vehicle mandate, 40% of all U.S. auto jobs will disappear.” [Sept. 27, 2023]

Fact check: As Heatmap has reported, there is little evidence to suggest that making electric vehicles will result in fewer jobs. “A number of analyses showed that electric vehicles could actually require more labor to build than gas-powered cars in the U.S., at least for the foreseeable future,” Emily Pontecorvo writes.

“The happiest moment for somebody in an electric car is the first 10 minutes. In other words, you get it charged, and now for 10 minutes. The unhappiest part is the next hour because you’re petrified that you’re not going to be finding another charger.” [August 24, 2023]

Fact check: We don’t know what every single EV driver thinks, but EV drivers as a group tend to be pretty satisfied; plug-in hybrids were level with internal combustion vehicles in J.D. Power’s annual survey of performance, execution, and layout-based consumer satisfaction, with fully battery-powered EVs just a few points behind on a 1,000-point scale. Some 90% of EV drivers say they hope to buy another EV as their next car, a 2022 Plug-In America survey found.

And while range anxiety is real, studies show that it declines the longer someone owns an EV and gets comfortable with charging. Only 8% of EV drivers told Escalent they’ve ever run out of juice while driving.

It’ll take more than an hour for you to start getting anxious, too. The average EV sold in the U.S. last year had a range of 291 miles, or a little over four hours of driving at 70mph.

Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

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