- May 29, 2001
President Biden extolled the potential of electric vehicles to boost the economy and reduce America’s contribution to climate change, and sought to ease worries about the reliability of EV technology, during a speech at the Detroit Auto Show on Wednesday.
After marveling at the zero-emission cars on display, at one point driving an electric Cadillac across the showroom floor, Biden highlighted how consumers and the American economy could benefit from the climate package he recently signed. The measure infuses billions of dollars of new federal investment into the electric-vehicle sector and pushes automakers to move their manufacturing plants onshore.
“America is confronting the climate crisis with American workers leading the way,” Biden said. “It used to be to buy an electric vehicle you had to make all sorts of compromises. Not now. … It is all changing. Today, if you want an electric vehicle with a long range, you can buy one made in America.”
The president, traveling with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, also promoted the progress being made on the administration’s goal of installing more than 500,000 electric vehicle chargers, using $7.5 billion Congress authorized earlier in Biden’s term.
“The great American road trip is going to be fully electrified,” Biden said, after announcing that the administration has approved plans from 35 states for building the national charging network. “Charging stations will be up and as easy to find as gas stations are now.”
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The remarks come as the administration faces tough economic and political head winds, with Tuesday’s discouraging inflation numbers and the corresponding plunge of the stock market adding to the challenges Democrats face in a tough midterm election.
The political stakes of today’s speech were underscored by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who contrasted Biden’s plans for the day with those of some congressional Republicans who are working today to advance a federal abortion ban in the Senate. The push for such a ban, which would prohibit the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, could damage GOP standing with suburban swing voters, recent polling suggests.
“While President Biden is in Michigan focusing on strengthening our economy,” Jean-Pierre said, “extreme MAGA Republicans are consumed with their efforts to strip away rights from millions of women.”
The White House says companies have invested nearly $85 billion in the EV sector since Biden took office.
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The climate package promises to speed up the pace of such investment, as it includes provisions that make federal subsidies contingent on companies moving their supply chains to the United States and a handful of other countries with which America has free-trade agreements. In 2022, firms invested triple what they did in the sector in the United States in 2020, according to the White House. The number of EVs sold has also tripled since Biden took office.
Among the investments auto companies have announced in the past six months are $2.5 billion by Toyota for a North Carolina facility and $3.7 billion by Ford for new assembly plants in the industrial Midwest. The company Vinfast announced that it will spend $5 billion on a battery factory in North Carolina that would create 13,000 jobs.
The Detroit event showcases some of the next-generation models that will come off American factory floors in the near future, including turbocharged all-wheel-drive Jeeps and a 670-horsepower Corvette starting production this month in Bowling Green, Ky. Many of the models on display are plug-in hybrids, cars that have the capability to run on gas as well as electric power, underscoring the unease drivers still have about the state of the country’s charging network.
Biden’s speech was paired with the announcement from the administration that it had approved 35 state plans for building a national network of electric vehicle charging stations. The step unlocks the first two years of funding from last year’s infrastructure law to be used toward the president’s goal of installing 500,000 chargers.
Buttigieg said the approvals bring the country toward having chargers on highways at “regular, reliable intervals.”
“We are taking an important step to build a nationwide electric vehicle charging network where finding a charge is as easy as locating a gas station,” he said in a statement
The initial round of funding from the Transportation Department focuses on areas close to interstates, with the department asking state leaders for plans to ultimately locate chargers no more than 50 miles apart on key corridors. The aim is to give drivers of electric vehicles the confidence that they’ll be able to find somewhere to recharge on long trips. Once those corridors are fully built out, states will be free to use any remaining federal funding on other charging projects.
Stephanie Pollack, acting head of the Federal Highway Administration, said she expected to complete the review of the remaining state plans by a Sept. 30 target date, calling the work “too important to wait.”
The charging stations are expected in almost all cases to be operated by private companies, guided by federal rules that will require that they are accessible and meet minimum standards. Some work by state agencies will probably have to wait until those rules are finalized, a job federal officials say they’re trying to complete “expeditiously.”
Wednesday’s address is part of a broader push by the White House to promote the climate package and make voters aware of how it will affect their everyday lives. Earlier this week, the administration launched its cleanenergy.gov website, a place consumers can go to see exactly what tax credits and rebates they can use to modernize their homes and transportation.
It provides a map to saving many thousands of dollars with new incentives that lower the cost of electric vehicles, solar panels, heat pumps and other efficient appliances. The site also outlines how the tax credits are helping to ease the financial burden of individuals and families across the economic spectrum.
The Detroit address is also part of a White House push to make consumers more comfortable with EVs, assuring them that prices will come down and that charging stations will soon be more widely available. Only 5 percent of Americans drive EVs, and getting broader buy-in is crucial to the success of Biden’s plan for half of cars sold in the United States to be electric by 2030.
In addition to working to make chargers more widely available, the administration is also focusing on bringing costs of the vehicles down amid criticism that the new tax breaks for EV purchases favor affluent people who can afford to buy them.
The tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act aim to bring the prices of EVs closer to those of comparable gas-powered models, but there is still a significant price gap that is expected to persist for years.
The average price of an EV in the United States is $66,000, about $20,000 more than the average price of a regular car. Bringing prices down is challenging at a time of disrupted supply chains, when the computer chips and battery components needed to assemble the cars are in short supply.
The Inflation Reduction Act includes tax breaks to bring more of the vehicles within financial reach of drivers. There is a $3,750 credit for electric vehicles that are assembled in North America and built with battery components made there. An additional $3,750 credit is available if the vehicle battery is made with materials from the United States or countries with which it has a free-trade agreement.
The credits are available to individuals earning less than $150,000 or couples who file their taxes jointly earning a combined income below $300,000. The credits also only apply to cars priced below $55,000 and SUVs and pickup trucks selling for under $80,000.
Those tax credits were structured to prod manufacturers to expand their operations in the United States, a point Biden stressed in Detroit. He closed his speech by contrasting the surge of investment in U.S. auto manufacturing with the dark days early in the Obama administration when the nation was reeling from a financial crisis and the industry was on the brink of collapse.
“When President Obama and I took over in 2009, the auto industry was on its back,” Biden said. “We were told when the auto industry was going belly-up, that it would never recover. We didn’t listen.”
As several members of the United Auto Workers union cheered loudly at the event, Biden credited his collaborations with the organization for saving the industry.
“We bet on the UAW to bring it back,” he said. “We are betting on you again ... I believe we can own the future of the automobile market.”