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Clean vehicle standards deliver benefits for consumers

By Quinta Warren, Ph.D., Associate Director of Sustainability Policy at Consumer Reports


Right now, two federal agencies are considering proposed standards for passenger cars and trucks.

If implemented, the new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles, and the rules from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would ensure that the fuel economy of traditional gasoline vehicles continues to improve.

Together, these rules will benefit both consumers and the environment.

At Consumer Reports, we’re a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization devoted to helping consumers navigate the marketplace. We survey millions of Americans a year, and use data to determine which options deliver the best benefits and savings.

Here’s what our analyses show:

Consumer demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is so high that the demand far outpaces the supply.  In early 2022, CR conducted a nationally representative survey – our largest ever, going to 8,027 adults in the U.S.  The survey gauged consumers’ awareness of EVs. It showed that 14% of Americans would “definitely buy” an electric-only vehicle if they were to buy or lease a vehicle today.  

That is 45 consumers for every EV produced, or 36 million “EV-ready” buyers, according to our recent analysis.  It represents an increase of 350% from 2020 to 2022.  Similarly, EV sales are trending up, with a 57% increase compared to last year. 

It’s important to note that EV sales are limited by supply, not demand. Consumers can’t buy an EV that hasn’t been produced, and they aren’t going to buy just any EV. They’re going to buy an EV that fits their family’s needs and budget. As automakers build more models in more price ranges, it’s reasonable to expect sales will continue to grow.   

And the EPA rules will help. The EPA estimates that its proposed emissions standards could lead to EVs making up to 67% of new vehicles sold in 2032. That would mean there will be enough EVs for about 25% of Americans. Even then, supply won’t meet current demand. CR’s 2022 survey shows 37% of Americans would “definitely” or “seriously consider” buying or leasing an EV today. In short: the rules won’t force EVs on consumers who don’t want one, but they will encourage supply to catch up closer to demand.

EVs also save consumers money, and according to a new analysis by CR, the savings start in the first year. Over the life of the vehicle, EVs save an estimated 60% on fueling costs because they are more efficient than internal combustion vehicles and using electricity as fuel is cheaper than gas. EVs also save 50% on maintenance because they have far fewer moving parts.

Federal and state rebates and incentives can also shave thousands off the upfront cost of an EV. Most notably, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes up to $7,500 in credits for qualifying new EVs. These savings make a difference, and consumers are taking advantage. In 2023, the nine models that start under $45,000 after the federal tax credit account for 70% of electric vehicle sales.

CR’s analysis shows that EVs consistently save consumers between $6,000 and $12,000 over the life of the vehicle. Moreover, the IRA includes credits for used EVs, benefiting the 70% of Americans who shop the used market. And with the IRA and the new EPA rules, more EVs will hit the market, driving the price down further and putting EVs within reach for even more Americans.

Another consideration is the grid, and whether it can handle a transition to electric vehicles. It’s true that electrifying transportation will increase demand for electricity, but electricity generation grows every year, too. In the U.S., generation grows by 3.2% a year, on average. Even if automakers comply with the EPA rules by going all-in on electric vehicles, it would only create additional electricity demand of  1% per year—well below the 3.5% average generation growth rate. 

Finally, the proposed standards are not only achievable and realistic, they align with commitments automakers have already made. General Motors, for instance, has a stated target of 50% EV sales by 2030 and 100% by 2035. And because the EPA standards are technology-neutral, even less aggressive commitments, such as Nissan’s stated goal of 40% EV sales in the US by 2030, would allow automakers to comply. Our analyses show automakers could comply by building 50-60% EVs by 2032 and continuing to improve fuel efficiency in traditional vehicle fleets, or by building as few as 40% EVs and investing heavily in hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.

Our data show there is strong consumer demand for both EVs and improved fuel economy for traditional gas vehicles.  Together, EPA emissions standards and NHTSA’s CAFE rules have delivered an average of $7,000 in fuel savings over the last two decades, with no inflation-adjusted increase in vehicle price. Hybrids today save consumers an average of $4,100 in fueling costs over the lifetime of the vehicle, according to CR’s analysis. That’s why we encourage the EPA and NHTSA to approve the most stringent versions of their latest proposals.  They will save consumers money while also reducing spending on healthcare tied to air pollution, and disaster recovery tied to greenhouse emissions, benefitting all of us.


Dr. Warren is the Associate Director of Sustainability Policy for Consumer Reports.  Founded in 1936, CR is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer research and advocacy organization.  Follow Dr. Warren at twitter.com/DoctorQuinta