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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Biden at GM plant promises jobs of future will be in Michigan

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Detroit — On the assembly plant floor of General Motor Co.’s newly renovated Factory Zero electric vehicle plant, President Joe Biden on Wednesday scored a victory over the bipartisan passage of the infrastructure bill and highlighted the importance of increased spending to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

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He painted a picture of a nation on the brink of rebirth thanks to industrial innovation in green technology and argued that all of this could be done without increasing inflation or skewed into large debts.

“We will make sure that the jobs of the future end here in Michigan, not halfway around the world,” he said. “Here in Detroit, we will set a new pace for electric vehicles. This is not an exaggeration. It is a fact.”

Biden was joined by General Motors CEO Mary Barra, United Auto Workers President Ray Carey, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, members of the Michigan Congressional delegation and others for the event, which launched the new Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck assembly center. It is GM’s second electric vehicle plant to date within its North American presence and is central to the company’s plan to shift from gas and diesel vehicles to electric vehicles.

Before making official remarks, Biden toured the factory and took a ride in the new Hummer EV pickup. It will be produced at the plant along with other electric vehicles, including the electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup and Cruise Origin electric autonomous. Later he called the Hummer “one car in hell” and marveled at its speed.

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“Anyone who wants to jump in the back or on the roof?” Biden joked with reporters and attendees. “One more thing this sucker!”

During the factory tour, Biden commented on how “exciting” finding the new plant was, said GM was helping “change everything” and noted that jobs at the plant were among the “most desirable” jobs in the union, according to aggregated reports.

Biden said the infrastructure bill signed Monday will help the United States begin a real competition with China for control of the global electric vehicle supply chain in the future. The bill includes $7.5 billion to help build a nationwide charging network for electric vehicles and $7.5 billion for electric school buses.

But the proposed $1.75 trillion social safety net package that Democrats hope to vote on by the end of the week would include much more money to spur adoption of electric cars, including billions of dollars in funding to bring back tools or build clean energy facilities and auto manufacturing. Financing up to $12,500 consumer discounts for electric vehicles.

“For most of the 21st century, we’ve led the world by a large margin because we’ve invested in our people, and we’ve invested in ourselves,” Biden said. But something went wrong along the way.

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“We’ve stopped. We risk losing our advantage as a nation, and China and the rest of the world is catching up. Well, we’re about to change that in a big, big way.”

The Detroit Hamtramck plant is an example of the kinds of projects that legislation might support if passed. The 36-year-old plant was set aside for closure by General Motors in 2018, but instead the automaker decided — after a 40-day strike by the UAW in the fall of 2019 — to invest $2.2 billion here to make EVs.

The plant is now in pre-production for the GMC Hummer EV pickup, which will reach dealerships by the end of the year. The Hummer SUV and electric Chevrolet Silverado will also be built here. When the plant is operating at full capacity, it is supposed to employ 2,200.

Factory Zero is one of five plants in North America that General Motors plans to manufacture electric cars so far. The automaker plans to sell 1 million electric cars globally by 2025 and wants a zero-emissions range by 2035.

Electric vehicle sales made up 1.9% of total vehicle sales in 2020, but are expected to grow to 14.8% by 2025 and 34.1% by 2030, according to IHS Markit forecasts.

Barra, who was previously the plant’s plant manager, said she “couldn’t have imagined the role I would one day play in charting the future of transportation.”

The company is spending $35 billion on electric vehicles and self-driving vehicles globally between 2020 and 2025 and plans to launch 30 new models of electric vehicles by 2025, she said, adding that the new factory will double the number of employees of the old factory.

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“It paves the way for what is to come here and at many other GM facilities in the United States that will be converted to support fully electric vehicle production,” she said. “Personally, I have never been more optimistic about our company and our industry.”

UAW leaders also expressed optimism that the future of transportation will be built by union members. The Build Back Better Act currently includes a policy that would make union organizing easier, increase penalties for labor violations and give the UAW and Detroit Three an edge over competitors with a $4,500 tax credit for electric vehicles built by union workers led by Representative Dan Keldy. D-Flint Township, and Senator Debbie Stabbino, D-Lansing.

“Mr. President, you are the first President I can remember standing up for and using the word ‘Union,’” said Carey. ‘And Mr. President, when you use the word ‘Union,’ you support it.’

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Biden also promoted provisions in an infrastructure package that would combat PFAS chemicals, expand broadband Internet access, improve roads and bridges, boost public transportation, build resilience to floods and other natural disasters, and reduce supply chain bottlenecks.

“There is a lot in this law,” he said. “But most of all, this law does something truly historic – this law will help rebuild the backbone of this nation.”

He said the proposed “Building Back Better” bill would add to that by funding paid family leave, universal preschool, lower costs for some prescription drugs, extended home care, childcare assistance and more.

but Michigan Republicans in Congress on Wednesday criticized Biden before his visit for high inflation, supply chain shortages and the staggering cost of what they called a “broken rebuild” plan for climate and social policy. They also highlighted reports that he is considering closing part of the Line 5 pipeline under the Strait of Mackinac – a charge the White House denies.

“They’re trying to put an arc over this big pile of rubbish that’s going on in the economy right now,” said Rep. Bill Huizinga, a Holland Republican. “The simple truth is that real people get hurt.

“Whether it’s about the cost of cars — which is a big problem for us in Michigan and for me in my neighborhood that has a lot of suppliers. Whether it’s getting washing machines and refrigerators and things like that. It has a real impact on people.”

Rep. Tim Wahlberg, R. Tipton, said he is pleased to be producing GM’s electric vehicles at the reused plant in Michigan. But, he added, “there will likely be less staff” because it doesn’t take as many people to build electric cars as gas and diesel vehicles.

“So we have to find a way to make sure that others have the opportunity to find life, as it were, in another field,” Wahlberg said.

Representative Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, asked before the visit about the proposal in the Build Back Better bill that would provide $4,500 in consumer tax credits for cars made by union workers.

“Why don’t you get a tax credit unless it’s a union car? What’s up with non-unionists? Why can’t we do both?” said McClain. “If we’re going to give tax credits, let’s give tax credits to innovation, which works, and let’s stop picking winners and losers.”

Canadian officials, foreign automakers and Tesla have opposed the electric vehicle tax credit proposal. Asked about the opposition en route to Detroit, White House spokesman Chris Major said Biden is doing what he promised by “rebuilding” the middle class.

He has long said that it was the middle class that built America, and that it was the unions that built the middle class. Major said he supports providing workers the opportunity to organize for good jobs, good wages and good benefits.

“There is a long history of using tax credits to incentivize choices, and right here. They will lower the cost of electric vehicles by $12,500 for a middle-class family, boost domestic manufacturing supplies across the country, and put America in a position to compete outside the world when it comes to electric vehicles.” “.

Michigan Democratic members of Congress hailed the visit and recently passed infrastructure legislation as a pivotal moment in Michigan and auto industry history.

Representative Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, whose district includes part of the new plant, said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, Dearborn, said Biden’s visit is an opportunity for national knowledge of developments in the US auto industry. She said automakers are making high-performance electric cars that people want with long-lasting batteries.

“The more we show the American people that these vehicles are real…we help transform the industry. Keeping the American auto industry at the forefront of innovation and technology,” she told the Detroit News. “We’re putting the world on wheels, and now we’re leading the new nation in mobility. That’s what it does, and it reinforces those messages.”

Biden traveled from Washington to Detroit Wednesday afternoon aboard Air Force One, with most of the Democrats in the Michigan congressional delegation. United States Representatives Elisa Slotkin, De Holly, and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit were not part of the group.

Slotkin’s office said she remained in town to cast her ballot on Wednesday afternoon. Tlaib was one of six House Democrats who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill this month because she objected to the bill’s separation from a larger social spending and climate package.

Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer was unable to attend Wednesday’s event due to previously scheduled meetings, including with semiconductor industry leaders in California. It plans to meet Thursday with the Semiconductor Industry Association’s board of directors to discuss ongoing efforts to increase domestic chip production and will attend the association’s annual event.

Biden landed at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on Air Force One at about 2:20 p.m., where he spoke briefly with Lieutenant Garlin Gilchrist II on the tarmac. About an hour later, he arrived at the GM compound.

Despite its detailed electric plans, GM has a compensation floor with Wall Street investors who still see Tesla and electric startups as the most valuable investments. Executives and experts expect that to change as General Motors gets more of its new electric vehicles, powered by its own Ultium batteries, on the market. GM shares closed 3% higher Wednesday.

Jessica Caldwell, CEO of Insights at Edmunds.com Inc. , the vehicle information site, said in a note that Wednesday’s presidential visit “should help cement Detroit’s name in the EV game.”

“It wasn’t long ago that startups that dominated the electric car news cycle for a very long time were overshadowed by startups. But they have since been catching up aggressively, particularly within the electrified pickup space, which is vital for Detroit automakers …they cannot afford to lose land with trucks, which are bread-and-butter wagons.”

khall@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bykaleahall

rbeggin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @rbeggin

Washington bureau chief Melissa Nunn Burke and writer Craig Moger contributed.

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