Detroit Free Press
Sept. 14, 2022
Paul Egan and Todd Spangler
President Joe Biden linked a resurgence of the U.S. auto industry through a transition to electric vehicles with a broader restoration of American greatness in a Wednesday speech at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The Democratic president said at Huntington Place, formerly known as Cobo Hall, that the United States was once the world’s clear leader in manufacturing and innovation, but “something went wrong along the way,” and China and the rest of the world was catching up.
That is changing under his administration, said Biden. “Now, we’re choosing to build a better America,” and “American manufacturing is roaring back.”
The White House says that since Biden took office, companies such as GM, Ford, Honda, and Panasonic have announced investments of nearly $85 billion to make electric vehicles, batteries and EV chargers across America, including in Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Missouri, and Kansas.
Biden pointed to three pieces of legislation he recently signed as crucial to that resurgence, saying: “I believe we can own the future of the automotive market.”
But Republicans and other critics are skeptical of the administration’s approach, saying that it is fueling inflation through costly legislation.
Biden, a self-described “car guy,” earlier took a strong shine to a powerful sports car while touring the auto show with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and other officials.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra guided Biden into the driver’s seat of a bright orange 2023 Corvette Z06 and he loudly fired up the engine before another GM executive offered Biden his hand to help him out of the sports car.
“He said he’s driving it home,” Barra said.
Biden later test drove an electric Cadillac Lyriq SUV through the show room, with a Secret Service agent in the passenger seat.
“It’s a beautiful car, but I love the Corvette,” the president said.
Biden’s approval ratings have been low amid high inflation, but they have improved somewhat recently following some congressional victories and the energizing of Democratic voters following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, thereby leaving women’s abortion rights in the hands of individual states. Still, Democrats are worried they could lose control of the House and Senate in the November midterm elections, when Whitmer also faces a reelection battle.
When a reporter asked Whitmer whether she believed Biden should run again in 2024, the governor deflected the question with a laugh and said, “I’m not having that conversation.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, then interjected: “I’m going to tell you, if he runs, we’re all supporting him. Those are questions designed to cause trouble. This is about celebrating cars today, guys.”
Whitmer also has previously said that if Biden runs again in 2024, he has her support.
She gave a speech that highlighted not just recent announcements from auto manufacturers about major investments expected to bring thousands of jobs to Michigan, but her administration’s work in areas such as boosting education funding and building up the state’s Rainy Day Fund. She got her biggest ovation when she cited her efforts to protect abortion rights.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Biden’s policies are assisting with a major resurgence in Detroit, one that he said involves not just new manufacturing plants but will soon include removal of the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant, a longtime city eyesore.
“This is what happens when you have a president and a governor and a mayor who all believe Detroit can lead the world in manufacturing,” Duggan said.
The three laws Biden pointed to were: The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure law, which invests $7.5 billion to build a national network of 500,000 EV chargers, plus more than $7 billion to ensure manufacturers have the minerals and other components necessary to make batteries; the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides incentives for buyers of new and used EVs and credits to help manufacturers retool; and the CHIPS and Science Act, which invests more than $50 billion in building domestic capacity for the semiconductors necessary for electric vehicles. A shortage of semiconductors has hampered the conventional U.S. auto industry since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden announced approval of the first $900 million in infrastructure law funding to build EV chargers across 53,000 miles of the national highway system and across 35 states, including Michigan.
In January, GM announced it will invest $7 billion in four manufacturing facilities, making Michigan the “hub” of electric vehicle development and manufacturing. GM said it will spend $2.6 billion to build a new battery factory in the Lansing area and $4 billion to convert its existing factory in Oakland County’s Orion Township to make electric pickups. It also will spend about half a billion dollars to make upgrades to its two existing vehicle assembly plants in Lansing.
In June, Whitmer and legislative leaders joined Ford executives on Mackinac Island to announce the company would invest more than $2 billion and create 3,200 new hourly jobs in Michigan as part of a massive global transition to expand its electric vehicle market.
Some of the shine came off the Ford announcement in August when the company announced that it plans 3,000 salaried job cuts globally, with a significant number of those in Michigan.
A Republican member of Congress and two GOP hopefuls held a teleconference call before Biden’s visit to criticize the administration and its push to promote electric vehicles at a time when inflation remains stubbornly high.
“Why would President Biden go to Michigan and tout a plan that is really not working,” said U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, referring to administration priorities he and other Republicans argue have only exacerbated high prices and threaten to cost Americans even more in higher minimum taxes for corporations. “It is really a plan that is crushing our families.”
“President Biden has turned a recovery into a recession,” Bergman added.
State Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, who is running against U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Lansing, said inflation is now so high it could cost the average American a month’s pay over the course of the year. Most families, he added, are “seeing way too much month at the end of their money.”
Paul Junge, the Republican nominee facing U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, criticized his opponent and the Biden administration for embracing what he called “irresponsible policies.”
Asked what they thought about Michigan’s auto industry embracing the transition to electric vehicles and asking for federal help to move the public to buy them, the Republican candidates suggested that it’s not the automakers but Biden and Democrats that are pushing them to make the change — a suggestion that is seemingly at odds with the automakers’ public statements.
“The Biden administration is on the wrong path, artificially forcing the hand (of business),” Barrett said.