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Biden Pushes Electric Cars at Detroit Auto Show

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President Joe Biden arrives to speak at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 14, 2022.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced $900 million to build a network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers in 35 states, part of his administration’s ambitious push to have 50% of vehicles sold in the U.S. to be electric by 2030.

“The great American Road Trip is going to be fully electrified,” Biden said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan.

The funding is part of the $7.5 billion allocated by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build a national network of 500,000 EV chargers. The legislation also sets aside $7 billion to ensure a supply chain of critical minerals for EV battery production and $10 billion for clean transit and school buses.

Biden, a self-professed “car guy,” was shown the latest green models from automakers General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, and test-drove a Cadillac LYRIQ SUV around the showroom.

Biden Pushes Electric Cars at Detroit Auto Show
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Following the tour, the president highlighted other recent legislative achievements, including the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides funding to strengthen EV supply chain, and the CHIPS and Science Act, designed to bolster domestic semiconductor production. He said these bills, both passed in August, will put the country on a path to creating more manufacturing jobs while fighting climate change and maintaining a competitive advantage globally.

“We risk losing the edge as a nation, and China and the rest of the world are catching up,” he said.

Catching up

When it comes to EVs, the U.S. lags behind China and many European countries, according to the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook 2022 report.

While EV sales have more than doubled in the U.S. in 2021 to 630,000, sales in China nearly tripled to 3.3 million, accounting for about half of the global total. Sales in Europe increased by 65% to 2.3 million.

President Joe Biden talks with Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, center, and an unidentified man, during a tour of the Detroit Auto Show, Sept. 14, 2022, in Detroit.
President Joe Biden talks with Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, center, and an unidentified man, during a tour of the Detroit Auto Show, Sept. 14, 2022, in Detroit.

In those countries, there has been a top-down government policy to incentivize EV production and sales, said Timothy Johnson, professor of the practice of energy and the environment at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. While the U.S. has long provided tax credits for EV purchases, without full federal support, the market trend here has not developed as far, he added.

“People are reluctant to buy electric vehicles unless they're confident that the charging network is available for them to charge, particularly on longer distance trips when they're away from home,” Johnson said. “At the same time, companies don't necessarily want to invest in building out a charging network unless they know demand will be there.”

Globally, EV sales doubled in 2021 to a new record of 6.6 million, with more now sold each week than in the whole of 2012. The number of EVs on the world’s roads by the end of 2021 was about 16.5 million, triple the number in 2018.

Buy American

Under the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act, buyers of American-made EVs can receive up to $7,500 in federal tax incentives. However, tax credits will end for approximately 50 models of EVs not assembled in North America.

“That’s a huge trade-off,” Owen Minott, senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told VOA. “We want to encourage American manufacturing and want to encourage the American auto industry, but also we want people to be buying as many electric vehicles as soon as possible to reach our climate goals.”

The law also stipulates that to be eligible for consumer tax credits, EVs purchased after 2023 cannot include battery components manufactured or assembled in a “foreign entity of concern”— which includes China and Russia. EVs purchased after 2024 must not include any critical minerals extracted, processed or recycled in those countries.

These are lofty goals to reach, said Johnson. “I'm not saying they can't be, but it's going to be difficult to reach those intermediate goals. So, it all depends on how quickly the industry responds.”

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