At Detroit auto show, Biden announces money for charging stations
By Zach Montague and Coral Davenport
President Joe Biden, a self-described “car guy” and Corvette owner, toured the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this week and announced the approval of an initial $900 million investment to begin building electric vehicle charging stations across the federal highway system.
The president’s announcement marked the beginning of a multiyear initiative funded by the infrastructure law he signed last year, which set aside $7.5 billion to build a network of charging stations that would make long-distance travel more feasible for battery-powered car owners.
Eventually, the White House believes, that will be enough to build about 500,000 stations across vast stretches of the federal highway system and in more isolated rural areas, though senior officials have conceded that far more stations will be needed to make electrical vehicles practical for many owners.
“The great American road trip is going to be fully electrified, whether you’re driving coast to coast along I-10 or on I-75 here in Michigan,” Biden said. “Charging stations will be up and as easy to find as gas stations are now.”
Biden’s aggressive push to ramp up Americans’ use of electric vehicles has been at the heart of his climate change and economic agendas.
Unless American motorists replace the gasoline-powered cars that have transported them for the past century with new zero-emission vehicles, experts say it will be impossible for the United States to meet Biden’s target of cutting its planet-warming emissions in half by 2030. That is the amount by which scientists say major economies must reduce their emissions in the next decade in order to avert the most catastrophic impacts of global warming, and vehicles are the United States’ largest source of planet-warming pollution.
But meeting that goal will also require a transformation of the nation’s auto industry — particularly since most of the materials required to make electric vehicle batteries are mined and processed in other countries.
The president’s visit on Wednesday highlighted just how far his administration had come on electrical vehicle goals since he visited the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Detroit more than a year ago.
Biden has pledged that 50% of the new cars sold in the United States by 2030 will be electric vehicles, up from just 6% today, and he has pushed a series of new policies designed to compel the nation’s automakers and motorists to meet that goal.
In August, he signed an expansive new climate, tax and health care law that includes up to $7,500 in rebates for people who purchase new electric vehicles for the next decade. That same month he also signed the CHIPS and Science Act, which is intended to support semiconductor manufacturers that produce some of the key parts used in both electric vehicles and standard combustion cars.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department are drafting a new regulation expected to be unveiled early next year that would likely require automakers to increase their sales of electric vehicles rapidly. California, the nation’s largest auto market, last month offered a preview of what such a federal regulation might look like, as it enacted a new rule to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars after 2035.
Together, Biden hopes that his electric vehicle policies will prop up U.S. manufacturing while reducing climate-warming emissions. But experts say it remains to be seen whether that will happen.
Even as new registrations of electric vehicles have surged over the past year, they remain a small fraction of vehicles in use in the United States. And even with the $7,500 tax credit, battery-powered cars remain too expensive for many consumers, and shortages of chips and other key components have led to waiting lists of more than a year and few electric vehicles available on sales lots.
Because the new climate law includes stringent requirements that limit the new electric vehicle tax credits only to automakers that assemble their vehicles in North America and source their batteries from friendly countries, starting next year, only cars built by three companies — Ford, General Motors and Tesla — are expected to be eligible for the credits.
American automobile workers also worry that the shift could cost them jobs, since only about one-third the number of laborers are needed to assemble an electric vehicle as a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle.
In the past year, Ford and General Motors each announced multibillion-dollar investments in battery factories and electric vehicle plants across the United States. General Motors has said it intends to fully phase out its combustion vehicles by 2035.
Last year, Rivian Automotive, a newer electric vehicle company, announced plans to build a $5 billion plant in Georgia.
There is considerable complexity and uncertainty in how the electric vehicle policies will play out, said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.
“The wild card is: Is there enough money in those credits and incentives to drive corporate decisions about what and where to produce the cars,” he said, “in ways that are just very hard to know right now, but are being watched very closely by all of our trading partners.”
Rabe noted that Biden has vowed that new U.S.-made electric vehicles will be built by union workers, but already many of the new electric vehicle and battery plants are being built in nonunion states, such as Georgia and North Carolina.
But Biden stressed repeatedly Wednesday that recent investments in domestic electric vehicle production also bring thousands of construction jobs, and building the national charger network in coming years will certainly require skilled electric work.
Overall, the vision the White House has laid out for a future dominated by battery-powered cars was very clearly echoed across the showroom floor Wednesday.
As in past years, many manufacturers placed plug-in hybrids and all-electric models front and center, abutted by model charging stations and beneath banners celebrating their makers’ battery-powered portfolios. Toward the back, other companies showed off arrays of portable charging stations and wireless charging technology.
The president appeared to delight in the scene.
“You all know I’m a car guy,” Biden said. “I’m here because the auto show and the vehicles here give me so many reasons to be optimistic about the future.”
He added: “I really mean it. Just looking at them and driving them, they just give me a sense of optimism — although I like the speed, too.”