Prospects for a Highly Electric Road Transportation Sector in the USA


Purpose of Review

This review explores the transportation implications of key scenarios for deep decarbonization. While electrification of transportation is not the only action that will be needed to reach climate-change goals, it is one necessary step. This review provides an overview of technologies available for electrification of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles, the infrastructure required to support electrification, and policy options to accelerate the transition to a cleaner transportation future.

Recent Findings

Climate studies have shown that as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue rising, aggressive action is needed to achieve deep decarbonization in the USA and worldwide. Transportation is the largest source of GHG emissions in the USA, and one of the largest worldwide. Experts agree that electrifying road transportation is essential to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Recent advances in electric vehicle (EV) technology are making electrification viable. Automakers are quickly increasing the number and diversity of commercially available EV models, and consumer awareness of EV technology is slowly growing. Studies show that policymakers can effectively accelerate transportation electrification through tax incentives, regulations, and other policy tools.


All credible pathways for achieving deep decarbonization rely on complete or near-complete electrification of passenger vehicles. Advances in EV technology have made this goal feasible from a technical standpoint, though much more needs to be done to achieve rapid electrification in practice. Prospects for electrifying medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are improving, but the high mileage and heavy load requirements of these vehicles present technical challenges. Moreover, achieving widespread electrification of road transportation will require considerable expansion of EV infrastructure (e.g., charging networks), as well as upgrades to existing electric grids. Policymakers can support rapid electrification through actions including tax rebates and other incentives that encourage consumers to purchase EVs, regulations that prioritize electrification of vehicles serving transportation network companies (TNCs), and increased public investment in EV infrastructure and research.

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Fig. 1



Automated vehicle


British thermal unit


California Air Resources Board


Electric vehicle


Fuel-cell vehicle


Greenhouse gas


Heavy-duty vehicle


Internal-combustion-engine vehicle


Light-duty vehicle


Medium-duty vehicle


National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Original equipment manufacturer


Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle


Transportation network company


Zero-emission vehicle


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Correspondence to Austin L. Brown.

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Brown, A.L., Fleming, K.L. & Safford, H.R. Prospects for a Highly Electric Road Transportation Sector in the USA. Curr Sustainable Renewable Energy Rep (2020).

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  • Electrification
  • Transportation
  • Decarbonization
  • Zero emission vehicles
  • Infrastructure