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DETROIT — President Joe Biden punched the accelerator on a battery-powered Hummer on Nov. 17, causing the wheels to squeal and the truck to jet forward as he tried to drive the country toward an electric vehicle future.
The engine was quiet as the president pulled up to a waiting delegation of reporters and officials.
“Anyone wanna jump in the back?” Biden asked.
The president had just toured a General Motors plant in Detroit to showcase how his newly signed $1 trillion infrastructure law could transform the auto industry.
He is highlighting billions of dollars in his giant bipartisan infrastructure deal to pay for the installation of electric vehicle chargers across the country, an investment he says will go a long way to curbing planet-warming carbon emissions while creating good-paying jobs. It’s also an attempt to leapfrog China in the plug-in EV market. Currently, the U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle sales is one-third the size of the Chinese EV market.
The president noted that the U.S. was not yet leading with electric vehicles, something he believes his infrastructure package can change with plans to build 500,000 charging stations. The Hummer he drove has a starting price of $108,700, as the electric market seems designed so far to serve luxury buyers instead of a mass audience.
“Up until now, China has been leading in this race — that’s about to change,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that the jobs of the future end up here in Michigan, not halfway around the world."
The GM plant Biden visited was slated to be closed in 2018 as the automaker tried to shed excess factory capacity to build sedans as buyers shifted toward SUVs and trucks. But the plant, which built cars with internal combustion engines since it opened in 1985, was rescued a year later and designated Factory Zero to build zero-emissions electric vehicles.
Biden speaks during his visit to the GM Factory Zero electric vehicle assembly plant. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
Currently, the 4.1 million-square-foot plant, which straddles the border between Detroit and the enclave of Hamtramck, is making pre-production versions of the electric GMC Hummer pickup truck.
Next year it will start making a Hummer electric SUV. The plant will start cranking out the Origin, an electric vehicle for GM’s Cruise autonomous vehicle subsidiary, in 2023, and an electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup at an unspecified date.
The plant won’t see much direct impact from the infrastructure spending, but it will benefit from $7.5 billion designated to help build an electric vehicle charging network.
Biden wanted $15 billion to build 500,000 chargers and hasn’t given a number for how many could be constructed for half that amount.
It’s likely $7.5 billion won’t be enough. The International Council on Clean Transportation says the U.S. will need 2.4 million charging stations by 2030 if 36% of new vehicle sales are electric. Currently there are about 45,500 charging stations nationwide with about 112,000 plugs.
Biden is hoping to do even more to promote electric vehicles, including a provision for a $7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy electric vehicles through 2026 that’s been floated as part of his proposed $1.85 trillion social services and climate bill.
The following year, only purchases of electric vehicles made in the U.S. would qualify for the credit. The base credit would go up by $4,500 if the vehicle is made at a U.S. plant that operates under a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. Only auto plants owned by GM, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV qualify.
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