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As EV sales growth slows, Mass. car dealers ask Biden to ‘tap the brakes’ on electric transition

Thousands of auto dealers across the United States have urged the Biden administration to back off its efforts to boost electric-vehicle production over the next decade.David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Jeb Balise, who sells new cars on Cape Cod and in Western Massachusetts, says he’s got nothing against electric cars. But Balise is convinced that President Biden has gone too far with his administration’s plan to boost sales of EVs by cracking down on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fueled cars.

“We understand the reasons behind it, but the consumer right now ... a very small percentage want to actually purchase an EV,” said Balise, president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association and owner of Balise Auto Group in West Springfield.

Last week, Balise joined owners of nearly 3,900 US car dealerships — about 5 percent of the nation’s auto dealers — in asking the Biden administration to pause its plan. In all, the owners of 111 Massachusetts dealerships signed off on the letter, which calls on the administration to “tap the brakes” on new, tougher auto emissions standards that would effectively compel carmakers to use electric drivetrains in two-thirds of all new cars in the next decade.

Under the administration’s proposal, the Environmental Protection Agency would require that each automaker’s 2032 fleet of new cars generate 56 percent less greenhouse gases than in 2026. The EPA will permit manufacturers to meet the standard using any technology they wish. But because it would be so difficult to build fossil-fueled engines that would meet the standard, the EPA estimated that the new rule could force carmakers to use electric drivetrains in two-thirds of all new cars by 2032. (That’s consistent with the administration’s previously stated goal of putting electric drivetrains in half of all new cars by 2030.)

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The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group that represents major carmakers, has said that the proposed EPA standard is “neither reasonable nor achievable in the time frame covered.”

But Anna Vanderspek, electric vehicle program director for the Green Energy Consumers Alliance in Boston, says it’s got to be done if the United States is to achieve its stated goal of adding no more greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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Vanderspek conceded that the rush to electrify the US auto fleet has put dealers in a tough spot. “They are in the middle of a major, major transition,” she said, “and that transition has a lot of moving parts. For a dealership, it can be very challenging.”

Balise’s 26 dealerships in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut presently have a 45-day supply of standard gas-powered cars and 30 days of inventory for hybrids, which are especially popular with his customers. But unsold EVs are stacking up, he said, with a 100-day supply on hand.

Customers are buying the EVs, but not fast enough. “We have some demand,” said Balise. “It’s just not matching up.” Balise said that as carmakers shift to EV production, he can get all the electric cars he wants, but not enough of the hot-selling hybrids.

EVs are still more expensive than fossil-fueled cars, and while many vehicles are eligible for federal subsidies, many others do not qualify for the program. “It becomes confusing to the consumer and ultimately intimidating,” Balise said.

Add to this the difficulty of getting reliable access to charging stations, and many consumers are still reluctant to go electric, Balise said.

But Vanderspek said it’s vital for the United States to quickly transition to carbon-free vehicles. “With the right combination of policies,” she said, “we can make that happen.”

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Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeTechLab.