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At Detroit Auto Show, Biden Announces Money for Charging Stations

DETROIT — President Biden, a self-proclaimed “automan” and owner of a Corvette, toured the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Wednesday and announced the approval of an initial $900 million investment to begin building electric charging stations. vehicles along the federal highway system.

The president’s announcement marked the start of a multi-year initiative funded by the infrastructure bill he signed last year that set aside $7.5 billion to build a network of charging stations that would make long-haul travel more feasible for owners of battery-powered cars. .

Ultimately, the White House believes that will be enough to build about 500,000 stations across vast stretches of the federal highway network and in more isolated rural areas, although senior officials have admitted many more stations will be needed to make electric vehicles practical. for many. owners.

“The great American road trip will be fully electrified whether you’re driving coast to coast along I-10 or on I-75 here in Michigan,” Mr Biden said. “Charging stations will be available and just as easy to find as gas stations are now.”

Biden’s aggressive push to ramp up Americans’ use of electric vehicles has been central to his climate change and economic agendas.

Unless American motorists replace the gas-powered cars they’ve transported over the past century with new zero-emission vehicles, experts say it will be impossible for the United States to meet Biden’s goal of halving global warming. 2030. That’s the amount by which scientists say major economies must cut emissions over the next decade to avert the most catastrophic effects of global warming, and vehicles are the largest source of planet-warming pollution in the United States.

But achieving that goal also requires a transformation of the country’s auto industry, especially since most of the materials needed to make batteries for electric vehicles are extracted and processed in other countries.

The president’s visit on Wednesday showed how far his administration had come on electric vehicles since visiting the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Detroit more than a year ago.

Mr. Biden has pledged that by 2030, 50 percent of new cars sold in the United States will be electric vehicles, up from just 6 percent today, and he has implemented a series of new policies to help the country’s automakers and motorists. force it to fulfill that purpose.

In August, he signed a comprehensive new climate, tax and health care bill that includes up to $7,500 in rebates for people who buy new electric vehicles for the next decade. That same month, he also signed the CHIPS and Science Act, which aims to support semiconductor manufacturers producing some of the key parts used in both electric vehicles and standard combustion cars.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department are drafting a new regulation expected to be unveiled early next year that would likely require automakers to rapidly increase their electric vehicle sales. California, the nation’s largest auto market, offered a preview of what such federal regulation might look like last month as it introduced a new rule banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars after 2035.

Together, Mr. Biden hopes his electric vehicle policies will support U.S. manufacturing while reducing climate-warming emissions. But experts say it remains to be seen whether that will happen.

Also as new registrations of electric vehicles have risen in the past year they remain a small fraction of the vehicles in use in the United States. And even with the $7,500 tax break, battery-powered cars remain too expensive for many consumers, and shortages of chips and other key components have led to waiting lists of more than a year and few electric vehicles available on sales lots.

Because the new climate law contains strict requirements that limit the new tax credits for electric vehicles only to automakers that assemble their vehicles in North America and source their batteries in friendly countries, starting next year, cars will only be built by three companies – Ford, General Motors and Tesla — is expected to qualify for the credits.

U.S. auto workers also worry that the shift could cost them jobs, as only about one-third the number of workers it takes to assemble an electric vehicle like a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle.

Last year, Ford and General Motors each announced multi-billion dollar investments in battery and electric vehicle plants in the United States. General Motors has said it plans to completely phase out its combustion vehicles by 2035.

Last year, Rivian Automotive, a newer electric vehicle company, announced plans to build a $5 billion plant in Georgia.

There is considerable complexity and uncertainty about how electric vehicle policies will play out, said Barry Rabe, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan.

“The wild card is, is there enough money in those credits and incentives to drive business decisions about what and where to produce the cars,” he said, “in ways that are just really hard to know right now, but that are very being watched closely by all our trading partners.”

Mr. Rabe noted that Mr. Biden has vowed that new US-made electric vehicles will be built by unionized workers, but many of the new electric vehicle and battery plants are already being built in non-union states such as Georgia and North Carolina. .

But Biden repeatedly stressed on Wednesday that recent investments in domestic electric vehicle production are also creating thousands of construction jobs, and building the national charging network in the coming years will certainly require skilled electrical work.

Overall, the White House’s vision for a future dominated by battery-powered cars was very clearly reflected in the showroom on Wednesday.

As in years past, many manufacturers placed plug-in hybrids and all-electric models front and center, adjacent to model charging stations and under banners to celebrate their creators’ battery-powered portfolios. At the back, other companies showed arrays of portable charging stations and wireless charging technology.

The president seemed to enjoy the scene.

“You all know I’m a car enthusiast,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m here because the auto show and the vehicles here give me so many reasons to be optimistic about the future.”

He added: “I really mean it. Just looking at them and driving them, they just give me a sense of optimism, although I also like the speed.”