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GM CEO Pushes for Renewed Tax Breaks on Electric Vehicles

GM chief Mary Barra is pressing Washington for an expansion of electric-vehicle tax credits, a plea that would help the company and rivals like Tesla sell battery-powered cars in an era of cheap gasoline and skepticism about alternative vehicles.

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra introduced the Bolt EV in 2016. On Wednesday, she pressed Washington for an expansion of electric-vehicle tax credits. Photo: larry w. smith/European Pressphoto Agency


Mike Colias in Detroit and

Russell Gold in Houston


General Motors Co. Chief Executive Mary Barra is pressing Washington for an expansion of electric-vehicle tax credits, a plea that would help the company and rivals like Tesla Inc. sell battery-powered cars in an era of cheap gasoline and skepticism about alternative vehicles.

A handful of auto makers face the expiration of $7,500 income-tax credit that has applied to hundreds of thousands of electric-vehicle purchases since the Obama administration established the offer. GM has used the incentive to bring the tab of its electric Chevrolet Bolt to under $30,000.

GM is expanding production of the Bolt, but it will soon hit a sales cap that triggers the gradual expiration of the incentive for individual car companies that have sold 200,000 electric cars since the credit’s inception in 2009.

Ms. Barra will call for an “expanded” tax credit at the CERAWeek conference in Houston on Wednesday, based on a copy of her initial remarks. A spokesman said the auto maker would like the volume cap lifted or increased.

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The tax break already was in jeopardy late last year when the House version of the tax-reform bill excluded it, though the measure was salvaged in the law passed in January. A few auto-industry groups publicly called for keeping the credits in place to help preserve choice for consumers.

GM, Ford Motor Co. , Tesla and Volkswagen AG are among car companies committing to spend billions of dollars developing more electrics, partly to assuage regulators in China, the world’s largest car market.

Electric vehicles account for just 1% of total U.S. vehicle sales. Certain U.S. regulations also call for an increase in EVs, but the Trump administration is revisiting those standards in a move that casts additional doubt on the viability of electric vehicles in the U.S. market.

Electric vehicles are expected to remain more expensive than gas-powered vehicles for about a decade, until battery costs fall far enough to compete on price with gas or diesel engines and car companies wring out more economies of scale.

Ms. Barra planned to use her appearance to reiterate GM’s pledge to wean itself from fossil-fuel-based vehicles over the long term. The nation’s largest auto maker by sales plans to add 20 more EV models globally by 2023. Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen AG and other rivals have similar expansion plans.

Earlier in the week, a number of energy executives said they don’t expect EVs to make a significant dent in oil demand. Amin Nasser, the chief executive of Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco, said he wasn’t losing sleep over a coming peak in demand for his primary product: crude oil. BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley said oil demand may plateau in coming decades, but won’t decline quickly as a result of rapid adoption of electric vehicles. Ben van Beurden, Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, said: “Not everyone in the world can afford an electric car.”

Still, Mr. van Beurden acknowledged that the focus on reducing emissions would be a major factor on the future of his business and create “radical uncertainty” in oil markets. In some scenarios, Shell believes oil could peak as soon as sometime in the next decade, he said.

Lord John Browne, former chief executive of BP, said he expected electric cars “to form a great part of the light vehicle pool,” although he believes a lack of charging infrastructure could hurt adoption.

The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based energy watchdog, expects a modest loss of 500,000 barrels a day of oil demand to alternative fuel vehicles, including electric cars and buses, as well as trucks running on liquefied natural gas. This loss of market share, it expects, will generate “existential angst” among oil refiners that turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products.

Ms. Barra during her appearance will commit to a boost for Bolt production later this year, but she isn’t quantifying the increase. The auto maker sold about 22,000 Bolts in the U.S. last year and about 4,000 abroad including in Europe, where the EVs are sold through GM’s former Opel subsidiary, now owned by French car maker Peugeot .

Last month, GM increased the number of Bolts it produces at its Orion Assembly plant in suburban Detroit to nearly 20%, to an annual rate of around 35,000, according to a person familiar with the matter. That is still a relatively modest number: GM sold about 42,000 Chevy Silverado pickup trucks in February alone.

Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com and Russell Gold at russell.gold@wsj.com