Congress Tries to Keep Pace With Electric Vehicle Market
WASHINGTON — Automobile industry advocates suggested on Friday that Congress act quickly to secure a U.S. role in manufacturing electric vehicles before the opportunity slips away to foreign competitors.
They testified at a congressional hearing in Pontiac, Michigan, where automobile manufacturers are transitioning from internal combustion engines to rechargeable batteries for the vehicles they make.
The United States could develop the cutting-edge technology to ensure a strong market for its manufacturers but only if the industry finds the right people to do the work, said Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., chairwoman of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology.
“To meet these goals, we’ll need a highly trained workforce,” Stevens said.
U.S. manufacturers also need the best minerals, supply chain and infrastructure before China dominates the market, Stevens and witnesses at the hearing said.
If the United States succeeds, it could be a watershed event for the automobile industry and the American economy, they said.
“It is absolutely part of a moonshot,” Stevens said.
The federal government plans to spend $7.5 billion to build and install a half-million electric charging stations by 2030.
By the end of last year, just under 2.5 million electric vehicles had been sold in the United States since 2010, which represented 20% of the global market. China leads with 47% of electric vehicle sales followed by Europe at 25%.
The automobile industry projects that electric vehicle sales are likely to increase from 2% of the global market in 2016 to 30% by 2030.
The most popular models in the United States are the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt.
Their sales are being helped by government incentives. The federal Energy Improvement and Extension Act grants tax credits as high as $7,500 on purchases of qualified plug-in electric vehicles. In addition, 37 states offer tax incentives or fee waivers.
Another boost comes from environmentalists who say the zero-emission vehicles are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, the technology is improving to the point electric vehicles are becoming price and performance competitive with gasoline-powered cars and trucks. The lithium-ion batteries that power them can be recharged in minutes and last longer than combustion engines.
At the same time, prices are dropping with mass production but still remain higher than most internal combustion cars. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a 2022 Tesla Model 3 is $46,990. The Chevrolet Bolt starts at $31,995.
Most customers recharge them at home and use the electric vehicles only for short drives. They complain that recharging stations outside their homes are too few to make the vehicles practical for longer drives.
Lawmakers on the Subcommittee on Research and Technology said it’s only a matter of time before the obstacles to widespread ownership are resolved.
“The future of the automobile industry is electric,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.
She seeks more government assistance to support growth of the industry in her home state of Michigan.
“It’s critical we get this policy right so this transition is swift,” Dingell said.
She downplayed risks the electric vehicle industry will leave autoworkers that make traditional vehicles without jobs.
“There will be new jobs, different jobs,” she said.
Marcia Black-Watson, a Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity administrator, said the U.S. electric vehicle industry will require 12,000 new workers by 2030.
“We have positioned ourselves to be at the center of that growth,” she said about Michigan’s manufacturing industry.
Josh Nassar, legislative director for the United Auto Workers, cautioned against being too hopeful until better groundwork is laid for growth of the U.S. electric vehicle industry.
“It’s not going to be as good as it could be unless Congress is proactive,” Nassar said.
By comparison, China’s annual electric vehicle production capacity has hit 5.7 million vehicles. In the United States, 434,879 electric vehicles were sold last year, according to automobile industry figures.
“We absolutely have to create the infrastructure and the retooling to make this happen,” Nassar said.
He added, “I think a heck of a lot more investment is needed.”
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