U.S. President Joe Biden took a spin in an electric Hummer on Wednesday, appealing to America's love affair with the automobile to promote the sale of all-electric vehicles as motorists face sharply higher gasoline prices.
Biden arrived at the General Motors plant in Detroit, Michigan, in his presidential Cadillac limousine, nicknamed the "Beast" for its size, heavy armor and numerous extra options. He hopped out and got behind the wheel of the 1,000-horsepower Hummer.
"Anyone want to jump in the back, or on the roof?" Biden asked reporters after taking a few laps, screeching the tires for effect. "These suckers are something else!"
He told reporters he was not sure how fast he was driving.
Biden, out to highlight provisions of the trillion-dollar infrastructure package he championed and signed into law on Monday, visited an electric vehicle assembly plant at General Motors, the biggest U.S. carmaker in terms of light vehicle sales, that says it plans to go all-electric by 2035.
"I never could have imagined vehicles like the ones that I just took for a spin," Biden said before about 300 assembled autoworkers. He said the new legislation will boost American industries' ability to compete globally.
"You know, up until now, China has been leading in this race," he said. "That's about to change. Because of this law, next year, for the first time in 20 years, in which American infrastructure investment will be far greater than China's — the first time in 20 years."
According to GM, the first edition vehicle starts at $112,595, and reservations are full. The predicted price of the one slated for release in 2024 is about $80,000.
The president's infrastructure package calls for construction of $7.5 billion worth of electric vehicle charging stations across the country — perhaps a half-million chargers — but Americans have been slow to embrace the purchase of electric vehicles. Last year, only 1.7% of vehicles sold in the U.S. were battery-powered, one-third of the Chinese market, and far behind world-leading Norway, where nearly three-fourths of vehicles sold are plug-in.
Ahead of his visit to Detroit, the White House said that with Biden's approval of the infrastructure legislation, he "has sent a clear signal to the rest of the world that America can lead this race as we choose to build these electric vehicles and batteries in the United States and advance our national security by strengthening our domestic supply chains."
The White House said the legislation will boost the creation of high-paying, union jobs, while two key Biden advisers, Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, and Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, said in an opinion column in the Detroit Free Press that the infrastructure legislation will help America regain its global competitiveness.
"Nobody knows this better than Detroit, which has been at the heart of American industrial strategy in the past and now can again," the Biden advisers said.
But currently, many more electric vehicles are sold in Europe and China because of financial incentives for consumers and government regulations. Surveys show there are about 1.3 million electric vehicles in use in the U.S. out of a world total of 7 million, but Biden has set a goal of 50% electric vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030.
For the moment, however, many U.S. motorists are concerned about spiraling gasoline prices they are paying at service stations, the highest since 2014. U.S. motorists are typically paying $3.30 a gallon (3.8 liters), $1.08 more than 12 months ago, pinching household budgets, along with higher food prices.
But some Republican opponents of Biden, even some who voted for the infrastructure package like Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, have attacked Biden for being focused with electric vehicle technology at a time when Americans are faced with higher gasoline prices and natural gas price hikes to heat their homes in the winter months ahead.
"The Biden administration doesn't have any strategic plan to snap its fingers and turn our massive country into some green utopia overnight," McConnell said Tuesday.
"They just want to throw boatloads of government money at things like solar panels and electric vehicles and hope it all works out," said McConnell, one of 19 Republican senators who voted in favor of the infrastructure bill, along with 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Biden argued that his ambitious legislation is necessary to push the U.S. forward.
"I truly believe — I give you my word as a Biden — I truly believe that 50 years from now, historians are going to look back at this moment, the last two years, the next four or five years, and they're going to determine whether or not, at that moment: Did America win the competition for the 21st century, or did we lose it? Because that's where all the pieces on the globe are changing. And we've got to get back in the game, folks."
Biden wants to provide more incentives to push American motorists to buy electric vehicles, calling for a $7,500 tax credit for those who buy electric vehicles through 2026 as part of his $1.85 trillion social safety net legislation that the House is planning to vote on later this week.