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Climate change mitigation strategies are often technology-oriented, and electric vehicles (EVs) are a good example of something believed to be a silver bullet. Here we show that current US policies are insufficient to remain within a sectoral CO2 emission budget for light-duty vehicles, consistent with preventing more than 2 °C global warming, creating a mitigation gap of up to 19 GtCO2 (28% of the projected 2015–2050 light-duty vehicle fleet emissions). Closing the mitigation gap solely with EVs would require more than 350 million on-road EVs (90% of the fleet), half of national electricity demand and excessive amounts of critical materials to be deployed in 2050. Improving average fuel consumption of conventional vehicles, with stringent standards and weight control, would reduce the requirement for alternative technologies, but is unlikely to fully bridge the mitigation gap. There is therefore a need for a wide range of policies that include measures to reduce vehicle ownership and usage.

Nature Climate Change (2020)