US President Joe Biden is highlighting billions of dollars in his giant bipartisan infrastructure deal to pay for the installation of electric vehicle chargers across the country, an investment he says will go a long way to curb planet-warming carbon emissions while creating well-paying jobs.
Mr Biden on Wednesday visited a General Motors plant in Detroit that manufactures electric vehicles, and drove a battery-powered Hummer. He accelerated enough to make the wheels squeal and the truck to jet forward.
"Anyone wanna jump in the back?" Mr Biden asked.
He used the occasion to make the case that the $7.5 billion in the new infrastructure law for electric vehicle chargers will help America get “off the sidelines” on green-energy manufacturing.
Currently, the US market share of plug-in electric vehicle sales is one third the size of the Chinese EV market.
“Up until now, China has been leading in this race — that’s about to change,” Mr Biden said.
“We’re going to make sure that the jobs of the future end up here in Michigan, not halfway around the world.”
Big bill becomes law
“It’s a big deal,” Mr Biden declared as he signed the bill into law at a White House ceremony on Monday.
Republicans, even some of those who voted in favour of the infrastructure package, are criticising Mr Biden for being preoccupied with electric vehicle technology at a time when Americans are contending with a spike in gasoline and natural gas prices.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to make the case that “the Biden administration doesn’t have any strategic plan to snap its fingers and turn our massive country into some green utopia overnight".
“They just want to throw boatloads of government money at things like solar panels and electric vehicles and hope it all works out,” said Mr McConnell, one of 19 Republican senators who voted in favour of the infrastructure bill.
He added: “American families are staring down the barrel of skyrocketing heating bills and the Democrats’ response is to go to war against affordable American energy.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has stressed that the administration is looking at “every tool in our arsenal” to combat high gasoline prices, saying that Mr Biden and his economic team are “quite focused” on the issue.
The GM plant that Mr Biden will visit was scheduled to be closed in 2018 as the carmaker tried to shed excess factory capacity to build sedans as buyers shifted towards SUVs and trucks. But the plant, which had built cars with internal combustion engines since it opened in 1985, was rescued a year later and designated Factory Zero to build zero-emissions electric vehicles.
Currently, the 381,000-square-metre plant, which straddles the border between Detroit and the enclave of Hamtramck, is making pre-production versions of the electric GMC Hummer pickup truck.
Next year, it will start making a Hummer electric SUV. The plant will start cranking out the Origin, an electric vehicle for GM’s Cruise autonomous vehicle subsidiary, in 2023, and an electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup at an unspecified date.
The plant will not see much direct impact from the infrastructure spending, but it will benefit from $7.5bn for the electric vehicle charging network.
Mr Biden wanted $15bn to build 500,000 chargers and has not given a number for how many could be constructed for half that amount.
It is probable that $7.5bn will not be enough. The International Council on Clean Transport says the US will need 2.4 million charging stations by 2030 if 36 per cent of new vehicle sales are electric. Currently there are about 45,500 charging stations nationwide with about 112,000 plugs.
Mr Biden is hoping to do even more to promote electric vehicles, including a provision for a $7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy electric vehicles through 2026 that has been floated as part of his proposed $1.85 trillion social services and climate bill.