‘Car guy’ Biden touts electric vehicles at Detroit auto show

DETROIT (AP) — President Joe Biden, a “car guy” with his own vintage Corvette, showcased his administration’s efforts to promote electric vehicles during a visit Wednesday to the Detroit auto show.

Biden traveled to the massive North American International Auto Show to plug the huge new climate, tax and health care law that offers tax incentives for buying electric vehicles. He toured a mix of American-manufactured hybrid, electric and combustion vehicles from Chevrolet, General Motors, Ford and Stellantis on a closed-off convention center floor, and greeted union workers, CEOs and local leaders.

“You all know I’m a car guy,” Biden told a roaring crowd of autoworkers, adding that cars “just give me a sense of optimism — although I like the speed too.”

While Biden has been taking credit for the recent boom in electric vehicle battery and assembly plant announcements, most were in the works long before the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law on Aug. 16. Biden’s 2021 infrastructure legislation could have something to do with it — it provides $5 billion over five years to help states create a network of EV charging stations.

In Detroit, Biden announced approval of the first $900 million in infrastructure money to build EV chargers across 53,000 miles of the national highway system in 34 states and Puerto Rico.

“The great American road trip is going to be fully electrified,” Biden said.

He also highlighted the law’s funding supporting infrastructure projects in Detroit and across Michigan.

“When you see these big projects in your home towns,” Biden said, “I want you to feel the way I feel: Pride. Pride in what we can do when we do it together.”

The president credited the United Auto Workers and other unions with supporting him in his 2020 bid for the White House. He highlighted how his administration has worked to promote union contracts for big projects, calling union workers the “most skilled” in the nation.

“The middle class built America, and unions built the middle class,” Biden said.

He made time for party politics, too. He praised Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is up for reelection in November, calling her “a great governor” who has utilized federal resources for her state to the fullest. Biden also participated in a Michigan Democratic Party fundraiser on behalf of her reelection campaign.

During a tour of the convention center floor, the Democratic president, who recently took a spin in his pine-green 1967 Stingray with Jay Leno for a segment on CNBC’s “Jay Leno’s Garage,” hopped into the driver seat of a bright orange Chevrolet Corvette Z06 — which starts at $106,000 and is not an EV —and fired up its engine, alongside GM CEO Mary Barra.

“He says he’s driving home,” she joked.

Biden then toured the new electric Ford Mustang Mach-E, marveling with Ford executive chairman Bill Ford at the model’s performance. “It’s amazing the speed,” Biden said, adding, “Does it have a launch button?” He also explored less-flashy vehicles, like Ford’s all-electric E-Transit van and F-150 truck.

Biden finally got behind the wheel of a Cadillac Lyriq all electric SUV, which starts at $63,000, briefly driving it down an aisle in the blue-carpeted hall. It marked a rare occasion to drive — albeit at little more than a walking pace — for the president, who typically is transported in armored U.S. Secret Service vehicles when out in public.

“Jump in, I’ll give you a ride to Washington,” he joked to reporters. “It’s a beautiful car,” he said, “but I love the Corvette.”

Under the new law, electric vehicles must be built in North America to be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Batteries for qualifying vehicles also must be made in North America, and there are requirements for battery minerals to be produced or recycled on the continent. The credits are aimed at creating a U.S. electric vehicle supply chain and ending dependence on other countries, mainly China.

Passage of the measure set off a scramble by automakers to speed up efforts to find North American-made batteries and battery minerals from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to make sure EVs are eligible for the credit.

In April, Ford started building electric pickup trucks at a new Michigan factory. General Motors has revamped an older factory in Detroit to make electric Hummers and pickups.

Long before legislators reached a compromise on the legislation, each company announced three EV battery factories, all joint ventures with battery makers. A GM battery plant in Warren, Ohio, has already started manufacturing. A government loan announced in July will help GM build its battery factories.

Ford said last September it would build the next generation of electric pickups at a plant in Tennessee, and GM has announced EV assembly plants in Lansing, Michigan; Spring Hill, Tennessee; and Orion Township, Michigan. In May, Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, said it would build another joint venture battery factory in Indiana, and it has announced a battery plant in Canada.

Hyundai announced battery and assembly plants in May to be built in Georgia, and Vietnamese automaker VinFast announced factories in North Carolina in July. Honda and Toyota both announced U.S. battery plants after the act was passed, but they had been planned for months.

Biden has been talking for a long time about the importance of building a domestic EV supply chain, and that may have prodded some of the companies to locate factories in the U.S. But it’s also advantageous to build batteries near where EVs will be assembled because the batteries are heavy and costly to ship from overseas.

And auto companies are rolling out more affordable electric options despite battery costs. The latest came last week from General Motors, a Chevrolet Equinox small SUV. It has a starting price around $30,000 and a range-per-charge of 250 miles, or 400 kilometers. Buyers can get a range of 300 miles, or 500 kilometers, if they pay more.

The Equinox checks the North American assembly box. It will be made in Mexico. The company won’t say where the battery will be made but it is working on meeting the other criteria for getting the tax credit.

It will take more than government money to build enough charging stations to ease the public’s anxiety over running out of juice with an electric vehicle, said Christian Meunier, CEO of Stellantis’ Jeep brand. But the money Biden announced should bring more private investment, he said.

“There is momentum building. There will be a business case for private companies to invest more,” Meunier said on the floor of the auto show. “It’s going to exponentially grow.”

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Krisher reported from Detroit. AP writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed.

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