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The EPA’s New Truck and Bus Rules Could Be Good for Rivian — and BYD

The Chinese EV giant doesn’t sell cars in the U.S., but it does sell buses.

A BYD garbage truck.
Heatmap Illustration/BYD

The Biden administration continued its crackdown on carbon pollution from the transportation sector on Friday, finalizing tough new limits on tailpipe emissions from heavy-duty trucks and buses.

The new rules, which the Environmental Protection Agency projects will keep a billion tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, could push more trucks and buses to use electric motors or experiment with alternative fuels. They apply to a plethora of big vehicles — delivery vans, trash trucks, city and school buses, even 18-wheelers — and go into effect starting in model year 2027.

As Camila Domonoske writes for NPR, these new rules are contentious — far more divisive than the new EPA limits on light-duty car and truck pollution that were unveiled earlier this month. While public-health groups such as the American Lung Association have celebrated the rules, citing their more than $13 billion in net benefits for the public, fossil-fuel trade groups and truckers’ lobbyists have said that they will be expensive to comply with and a “forced march toward electric vehicles.”

Of course, it was never going to be simple to fix the environmental problem posed by America’s heavy-duty vehicle fleet. The transportation sector now produces 29% of America’s carbon pollution, more than any other part of the economy. Heavy-duty trucks and buses are responsible for about a quarter of that pollution, making them second only to passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs as a driver of transportation-related emissions.

Given all the attention on these rules, I wanted to highlight two very different companies that will be affected by them. One is an automaker that is increasingly synonymous with China’s goals of creating a new global mass market for clean vehicles. The other is an all-American electric truck maker that is a particular favorite of upscale Millennial and Gen X dads.

The first is BYD, the Chinese automaker that last year surpassed Tesla as the world’s No. 1 producer of electric and plug-in vehicles. Here in America, most of the attention paid to BYD recently has focused on its zippy, unbelievably affordable electric cars, such as the $9,000 BYD Seagull.

Of course, some of that hand wringing is premature: BYD doesn’t even sell cars in the United States yet, and it’s only begun to push operations into our neighboring market of Mexico. But what BYD does sell in the U.S. is buses — a lot of them. Over the past decade, transit agencies and airports across North America have ordered more than 1,000 buses from BYD, the company says; it cites customers in California, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Louisiana. From an American perspective, BYD is and remains a bus company: It operates an electric-bus factory in Los Angeles County, California, that has been described as the largest in North America, and it recently opened bus-repair centers in New Jersey and Indiana so it could service East Coast and Midwest clients.

BYD, I should add, is not the only electric-bus maker in North America. Nova Bus, a Canadian company owned by the Volvo Group, just received the largest electric bus order in the continent’s history. The Volvo Group also recently bought part of Proterra, an American electric-bus maker that went bankrupt last year. (Somewhat confusingly, the Volvo Group, which is headquartered in Sweden, is a different company from Volvo Cars, which is owned by the Chinese automaker Geely.) Thomas Built, the iconic American maker of yellow school buses, has also unveiled a single electric model, the C2 Jouley. (Fun fact: Even though it makes an icon of Americana, Thomas Built is owned by Daimler.)

Even if BYD reaps some business from the EPA rule, it will be somewhat limited in doing so. In 2021, the Biden administration said that transit agencies could not spend federal money on manufacturers linked to China.

But BYD isn’t the only company that could stand to benefit from these new EPA rules. Another is much closer to home: the electric-truck maker, Rivian.

Although most readers will know Rivian for its rugged and neotenous electric trucks, it also makes delivery trucks and work vans. These vans were initially designed to be sold to Amazon, which owns roughly 16% of Rivian, but they have since blossomed into their own product line. Companies can now buy a Rivian Delivery 500, a chipper work van with 500 cubic feet of cargo space and 160 miles of range, for $83,000 or more.

When I’ve analyzed Rivian’s financial future recently, I haven’t focused as much on its delivery vans in part because that business seemed to be decelerating. Amazon bought fewer delivery vans in the fourth quarter of 2023 than it did in the third quarter, and while Rivian’s executives have blamed that pause on Amazon’s busy holiday-shopping season, it seemed prudent for those of us outside the company to wait and see what will happen to it more broadly. As I’ve written, Rivian needs all the cash it can muster to cross the so-called EV valley of death and survive until early 2026, when it will begin selling its affordable R2 SUV.

But perhaps these EPA rules will generate more demand for electric delivery vans than Rivian might project. If that happens, then other American automakers will be happy, too — such as Ford, whose $46,000 electric E-Transit cargo van could also help companies meet the new rules.

And automakers won’t be the only American companies who benefit. The EPA projects that the new rule’s biggest winner might be the heavy-duty trucking and cargo industry itself — truck owners and fleet operators will save $3.5 billion in fuel costs each year because of the rule, the agency says. But to conserve that money, they might have to shell out a little more at the outset for slightly more expensive vehicles. If that’s true, then the rule seems prudent, almost thrifty. After all, nobody ever said saving money would be cheap.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify limitations on the use of federal funds by transit agencies, as well as the ownership of Proterra and Thomas Built.

Robinson Meyer

Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology. Read More

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