U.S. Treasury Bows to Industry Pressure On EV Tax Credit Scheme

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The United States Department of the Treasury appears to have caved after receiving sustained pressure from the auto lobby, modifying how vehicles are classified in the updated EV tax credit scheme in a manner designed to make more vehicles eligible. Rather than leaning on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, the Treasury has said it will instead use the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Fuel Economy Labeling standard to determine when a vehicle is an SUV, pickup, sedan, or van.

"This change will allow crossover vehicles that share similar features to be treated consistently," the department explained on Friday. "It will also align vehicle classifications under the clean vehicle credit with the classification displayed on the vehicle label and on the consumer-facing website FuelEconomy.gov."

While the Biden administration managed to pass the relevant legislation in August, amendments designed to restrict the automotive sector from indefinitely benefiting from the credit scheme have become a sore spot for automakers. Despite the original EV tax credits allegedly existing just to get the ball rolling on battery electric vehicles way back in 2005, the industry has grown accustomed to green-washing itself in exchange for government subsidies. In fact, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (the world’s largest automotive lobbying group) immediately issued a warning that the number of vehicles qualifying under the updated plan would be few in number when the climate bill was approved.

The biggest problem was that almost no EVs sold in the United States were capable of meeting the domestic content requirements designed to move the country away from being wholly reliant on Chinese-made batteries. But there were also provisions made to cap eligibility of the $7,500 tax credit based on income and MSRP. While SUVs, pickups, and vans can be priced up to $80,000 and still qualify, vehicles categorized as sedans, coupes, and station wagons were capped at $55,000.

Since crossovers typically have more in common with unibody passenger cars than they do pickups and SUVs they’re typically regulated as the former – including under federal CAFE standards. This meant a lot of all-electric crossovers would be categorized accordingly and capped at $55,000 for any tax credit eligibility.

By December, the Treasury said it was going to need more time to offer its own guidance on the rules and appears to have found a loophole in the successive weeks. By stating that it will no longer use CAFE to classify vehicles, the department has effectively opened up the door for a handful of EVs that would have previously been too expensive to be subsidized by tax dollars.

Examples include most versions of the Cadillac Lyriq, Ford “Mustang” Mach-E, Ford Escape PHEV, Tesla Model Y, and Volkswagen ID.4.

This comes after automotive executives held numerous meetings with White House officials that reportedly included Elon Musk. While Tesla originally opposed any continuation of the EV tax credit system – with the CEO saying battery-powered vehicles had already gotten enough help – the automaker now seems to be playing the game like every other manufacturer hoping to get a piece of government cheese. This also might explain why select Tesla models recently saw dramatic price changes in anticipation of the new rules. Legacy manufacturers have likewise tweaked pricing on their EVs of late, making them about as expensive as they could be while still qualifying for tax credits.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation has already told companies to self-certify to the Treasury Department, effectively giving them the ability to decide how vehicles should be classified under the EV tax credit scheme. While a major win for the industry, we’re already seeing how it has managed to game the system and capture regulatory bodies. Though that’s nothing new. There are countless studies showing that legislators and government agencies are far more likely to pass laws or favor regulations supported by corporate entities than those backed by average citizens.

While the Treasury has yet to issue the proposed guidance on the consumer tax credit's critical mineral and battery component requirements – indefinitely maintaining eligibility for loads of vehicles that otherwise would not qualify – it still plans on having something by the end of March. However, the formal deadline came and went in December of 2022, with swirling accusations that the department was going out of its way to ensure automakers got what they wanted.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has said everything the Treasury is doing goes against the congressional intent of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act – especially the provisions designed to ensure material sourcing was moving back toward North America and away from China.

[Image: ZikG/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Probert Probert on Feb 05, 2023

    @ Matt Posky. I know you are are going to parse and nitpick. Get past. the name. Inflation was an inevitability after the COVID tragedy, and also subsequent corporate gouging. While the fed uses traditional methods of trying to create unemployment to lower wages - you really want to curb inflation further: call exxon and say: If you continue to fleece the US driver - we will put a few of you in jail. Done and dusted - never going to happen.

    But lets look at what this Bill is accomplishing: There are billions in new investment in manufacturing in the US. Factories are being built or repurposed. This will create thousands of jobs, increases in the tax base, and more money in the treasury. This what some people call "an investment". Maybe you'd prefer "priming the pump".

    What else will it accomplish: It will incentivize the creation of new supply chains, supply chains which are almost monopolized by China. For all the huff and puff about the CCP - this is an actual national security issue. It is a real thing and it is being addressed.

    What did the right do during trump? It ceded the world to China by pulling out of the TPP and weakening our alliances around the world. It raised US prices via tariffs, and created a permanent subsidy of around $100,000,000/year for lost farm contracts (Soybeans and pork). It isolated America on the world stage, and that is fine with the China - and they didn't have to lift a finger.

    So new domestic supply chains, massive capital investment, new manufacturing jobs, new tax base, remaining competitive in a huge energy and transportation transition... So -besides not liking the name - what's the beef?

  • El scotto El scotto on Feb 05, 2023

    I started driving in the late 70's. The cars high school kids could afford and wanted were very very worn out muscle cars. Oh Lordy those V-8's bring back some happy memories. Oh there some outliers in my crowd, a VW Bug and a Dodge Scamp with slant six; neither car would die. In 10 years their will be young people wanting very used Teslas or Dodge's with hemis. B&B, I say that if someone is excited about their EV, Hybrid, or Hemi welcome them to the club of people who like cars.

  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).
  • Lou_BC There are a few in my town. They come out on sunny days. I'd rather spend $29k on a square body Chevy
  • Lou_BC I had a 2010 Ford F150 and 2010 Toyota Sienna. The F150 went through 3 sets of brakes and Sienna 2 sets. Similar mileage and 10 year span.4 sets tires on F150. Truck needed a set of rear shocks and front axle seals. The solenoid in the T-case was replaced under warranty. I replaced a "blend door motor" on heater. Sienna needed a water pump and heater blower both on warranty. One TSB then recall on spare tire cable. Has a limp mode due to an engine sensor failure. At 11 years old I had to replace clutch pack in rear diff F150. My ZR2 diesel at 55,000 km. Needs new tires. Duratrac's worn and chewed up. Needed front end alignment (1st time ever on any truck I've owned).Rear brakes worn out. Left pads were to metal. Chevy rear brakes don't like offroad. Weird "inside out" dents in a few spots rear fenders. Typically GM can't really build an offroad truck issue. They won't warranty. Has fender-well liners. Tore off one rear shock protector. Was cheaper to order from GM warehouse through parts supplier than through Chevy dealer. Lots of squeaks and rattles. Infotainment has crashed a few times. Seat heater modual was on recall. One of those post sale retrofit.Local dealer is horrific. If my son can't service or repair it, I'll drive 120 km to the next town. 1st and last Chevy. Love the drivetrain and suspension. Fit and finish mediocre. Dealer sucks.
  • MaintenanceCosts You expect everything on Amazon and eBay to be fake, but it's a shame to see fake stuff on Summit Racing. Glad they pulled it.