A diverse group of transportation companies and public stakeholders on Wednesday unveiled a new initiative, the 50x50 Commission, alongside a set of policy and regulatory recommendations to reduce energy used in transportation 50 percent by 2050. 

The commission counts members from across the environmental, transportation and energy space, including the Edison Electric Institute, Audi, General Motors, Southern Company and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The policy suggestions they put forth are wide-ranging: encouraging public transit and biking, as well as urging the federal government to pursue research and development on transportation and provide incentives for electric vehicles. 

Members say transportation is on the precipice of massive change. They view the coalition as an important collaboration to guide stakeholders into the future.

“We think this is really a once-in-a-century opportunity to redefine, rethink and get on the same page for how we get from Point A to Point B,” said Brad Stertz, director of government affairs at Audi of America. The automaker is a co-chair of the new group. 

The group is also a notable effort in the wake of federal leadership. In August the Trump administration proposed a rollback of auto emissions standards and the revocation of a waiver that lets California set stricter rules and targets for electric vehicles. The change in emissions standards threatens to split the U.S. market, if California can keep its waiver, or make the U.S. a laggard compared to policies in other countries.

Stertz said federal re-jiggering of transportation policy hasn’t changed Audi’s electrification plans or those of the rest of the Volkswagen Group. In 2017, Audi pledged that at least 30 percent of its sales would come from electric or partly electric vehicles by 2025. Earlier this month, the company unveiled its first fully electric car, the e-Tron, in San Francisco and partnered with Amazon and Electrify America to expand EV charging infrastructure. 

“What we can control is our plan,” Stertz said. “Bottom line is, no matter how it shakes out between Washington and Sacramento, we will continue to pursue this strategy.”

The automotive industry softened on emissions regulations after initially pushing back on revised standards put forth by the Obama administration. Jason Hartke, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, which convened the group, said that conversations on fuel standards "do get complicated, and the devil’s in the details," adding that the commission worked hard to reach consensus.

“We’re strident in [our stance] that those standards need to move forward,” said Hartke. “We definitely don’t want to move backward.”

The group suggests federal policies will be important in helping to push forward many types of research and development for advanced vehicle technologies.

It also integrates the voice of the utility and electricity providers, which group co-chair National Grid said is essential to discussions about charging programs and how electrification will impact load and customer choice.     

“Early on it was tempting to think that maybe transportation is something others have to deal with, but in fact — to really achieve the gains we need to in the transportation sector — we believe there’s an incredible opportunity to look at it holistically,” said Terry Sobolewski, National Grid’s chief customer officer.

According to Hartke, the recommendations represent a starting point. With its release, the group is “doubling down” and fostering more collaboration on policy outreach. He said the effort will last years, starting with meetings on Capitol Hill. 

“This is not just pulling together a diverse group of stakeholders...it’s getting them aligned around a plan of action that can move the ball and help institutionalize efficiency as more [valuable] in these changes to come,” said Hartke. “In terms of a sector that’s on the precipice of change, I don’t know if there’s any other sector that’s more notable.”