From Powerful Unions to Everyday Voters, Biden's Gas-Powered Car Purge Prompts Backlash

Support for phasing out conventional vehicles down 7 points in two years

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)
June 29, 2023

President Joe Biden's plan to phase out gas-powered vehicles is facing intense backlash from a surprising array of groups, including a historically liberal labor union, a powerful trade group, and moderate Democratic voters.

Biden in April unveiled new environmental regulations that effectively force U.S. automakers to ensure two-thirds of the vehicles they sell are electric by 2032, and the United Auto Workers—a longtime force in Democratic politics that endorsed Biden in 2020—is not happy. The union's new president, Shawn Fain, is concerned that the push will prompt job loss in the auto industry, as electric vehicles require fewer parts and thus fewer workers to build. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group that represents the world's top automakers, agrees with the union—its leaders in comments sent to Biden's Environmental Protection Agency said the regulations are "neither reasonable nor achievable" and would prompt huge price hikes.

A lack of support from the same groups that helped send Biden to the White House could bring major challenges to the Democrat's reelection campaign. The United Auto Workers in 2020 endorsed Biden and spent millions of dollars to elect Democrats. Roughly a third of the union's rank-and-file members, however, voted for former president Donald Trump over Biden, and there's good reason to believe a wide array of United Auto Workers disapprove of the administration's electric vehicle rule.

That's because nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose phasing out the production of gas-powered cars and trucks, according to a Pew Research Center poll published Wednesday. Just 40 percent of the public, meanwhile, supports such a policy—that figure was 7 percentage points higher two years ago. Moderate and conservative Democrats are also split on the issue, with just 53 percent favoring a gas-powered vehicle purge, compared with 76 percent of liberals. In general, only 21 percent of Americans say they would feel "excited" if gas-powered vehicles were phased out, while 45 percent say they would feel "upset."

For the United Auto Workers, Biden's "electric vehicle transition" is so troubling that the union is holding off on endorsing the Democrat's reelection bid, a stunning development given its status as a staunch Democratic Party ally.

"The EV transition is at serious risk of becoming a race to the bottom," Fain, the union's president, wrote in a recent memo to members. "We want to see national leadership have our backs on this before we make any commitments." Fain also condemned Biden's $9.2 billion electric vehicle battery loan to Ford, asking, "Why is Joe Biden's administration facilitating this corporate greed with taxpayer money?"

The White House did not return a request for comment.

This is not the first time the union has challenged Biden's mission to greenify the auto industry. In April, the administration planned to unveil its new vehicle regulations alongside United Auto Workers allies in Detroit, where the union is headquartered. Once the union learned of the policy's details, however, they balked at supporting the regulations publicly. As a result, Biden's Environmental Protection Agency had to move the announcement to Washington, D.C., a location change it initially blamed on "scheduling conflicts." The agency's administrator, Michael Regan, went on to acknowledge that union leadership "expressed anxiety" over the regulations.

"We've dealt with the loss of jobs before through technology, but when you talk about the speed of this, it's hard to fathom that we won't lose jobs," United Auto Workers Local 600 vice president Mark DePaoli said at the time.

Should the Biden administration reverse course on its plans to force Americans to adopt electric vehicles, it will undoubtedly struggle to achieve its green energy goals. Just 19 percent of Americans say they're "very" or "extremely" likely to purchase an electric vehicle when they need a new car, while nearly half say they're unlikely to do so, according to an Associated Press poll published in April. The high cost of electric vehicles is the main deterrent—the vehicles, on average, cost at least $10,000 more than their gas-powered counterparts.