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Buttigieg Advocates for Major Investment in Electric Vehicles

April 26, 2021 by Kate Michael
Treasury Secretary Pete Buttigieg addresses a group at the Royal Baptist Family Life and Banquet Center in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — President Biden recently outlined a spend of $174 billion in his American Jobs Plan to boost electric vehicle development, proliferation, and purchasing. His administration touts this as an investment in the future of safe transportation that has potential for social good. But for some, EVs are still a niche product that has yet to achieve any mass appeal. 

EVs currently make up only about 2% of the new car market and only 1% of vehicles on the road.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, speaking to Axios, claimed the multi-billion dollar investment in the American Jobs Plan is what the U.S. needs if it truly wants to recognize EVs as the future of car transportation and critically position the country to be leading the world in manufacturing them.

“Part of what we have to do is make electric vehicles more affordable for consumers,” he said, pointing out the plan’s credits, rebates, and other incentives that help automakers build vehicles and batteries and assist consumers with the purchase price. But a lot of the money in the president’s proposal is directed toward what Buttigieg called “market-making investments” that may help establish EV accessibility on a grander scale.

“The funding contemplated here, yes it includes making EVs more affordable for consumers, but it’s also deploying a network of half a million charging stations,” said Buttigieg. “The idea here is to use federal investment to kick-start development of these charging stations.”

Factors related to charging, including slowness and the lack of station availability, are often cited by detractors as reasons why EV consumption isn’t more widespread in the nation.

This is why Buttigieg said a federal focus has been on developing a nationwide network of charging stations to combat range anxiety. 

“A lot of the cars going on the market now can go two, three, four hundred miles on a charge,” he said, but the goal is to have half a million charging stations by 2030 so people will feel more comfortable taking longer trips, “and we just don’t think that will happen without federal support.”

The American Jobs Plan also expands rebates for people who purchase EVs. Critics contend that previous tax credits to subsidize EV purchasing haven’t done much to encourage the general public, but have mainly assisted those early adopters who would otherwise have bought into the technology. But Buttigieg said this massive investment could make all the difference.

“Tax credits — the original program — certainly had an impact in driving the adoption of these technologies and helping [this] U.S.-based industry pick up,” said Buttigieg, “As we get into more detail in policy design about how to deploy the funds [in the American Jobs Plan]… it’s absolutely going to be done in a way that’s for everybody.”

Buttigieg doesn’t want EVs to be seen as a “luxury item,” and said, “that does mean taking action to make sure [they] are more affordable as that technology goes to the largest possible scale.”

He insisted there is “a lot of interest” in Congress, though he admits he is still discussing the topic with skeptical members and continuing to communicate the “economic potential as well as the climate potential of this.”

The investment is included in the American Jobs Plan because the administration insists the goal is equally environmental and economic. 

“There’s a lot of job creation ahead,” said Buttigieg. “This plan will generate millions of jobs… primarily blue-collar jobs… Yes, the technology is changing, but these are not all new-fangled futuristic jobs we’re talking about.” 

In an effort to expand the nation’s view of infrastructure “that isn’t just building it the way we would have in, say, the 1950s,” Buttigieg pointed to “the example-setting power of the federal government to help walk the talk and to help grow these kinds of markets… areas where we are just at the beginning of building a domestic industry… like battery production.” 

He predicts that the nation’s upcoming investments in infrastructure — including EVs — will be a boon for “electrical workers, insulators, glazers, painters, pipefitters, people who are good at making things.”

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