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‘There’s no turning back’: Biden gets behind the wheel to promote electric cars

President visits Michigan to promote US production, adoption of the vehicles

President Joe Biden talks to the media after driving the new electric Ford F-150 Lightning in Dearborn, Mich.
President Joe Biden talks to the media after driving the new electric Ford F-150 Lightning in Dearborn, Mich. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden test-drove an electric-powered Ford F-150 pickup truck on Tuesday and declared, “this sucker’s quick.”

The quick spin in the new truck came as Biden traveled to the heart of car country Tuesday to promote his plans for accelerating America’s production and adoption of electric vehicles.

“The future of the auto industry is electric,” Biden said at Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Mich. “There’s no turning back.”

Boosting the usage of electric vehicles would help the United States make good on Biden’s international commitments to significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal includes $174 billion for EV’s.

[Electric vehicles get help in Biden plan, but roadblocks remain]

That includes money to build out a national network of charging stations, offer cost-lowering consumer incentives and transition public transit and school buses.

While key to its climate goals, the administration has hammered the idea that taking such steps will create high-paying union jobs.

“The American auto industry is at a crossroads,” Biden said Tuesday. “And the real question is whether we’ll lead or we’ll fall behind in the race to the future. Or whether we’ll build these vehicles and the batteries that go in them here in the United States or rely on other countries.”

China’s lead

A fact sheet released by the White House pointed to the disparity with China on a number of metrics, such as China’s 800,000 charging points compared to just 100,000 in the United States.

But Americans have shown they need some convincing to buy vehicles that plug into an outlet.

Initial electric car models were generally small, which meant that many people couldn’t envision using them to regularly haul around bags of mulch, hockey equipment or other bulky items.

The plant where Biden spoke Tuesday will produce Ford’s new electric F-150 Lightning, a full-size pickup truck.

The gasoline-burning versions of the F-150 are the top-selling vehicles in America.

“One out of every 10 vehicles made in the United States is a Ford F-series pickup,” said Kristin Dziczek, senior vice president at the Center for Automotive Research. “Electrifying that vehicle — it’s iconic for sure. It’s a big change for Ford.”

Having electric versions of those trucks could help change public perceptions of EV’s.

“This is a vehicle that regular people buy and that fits more than four people and a couple suitcases,” Dziczek said. “It’s a real big change to think about electrifying pickup trucks.”

Pickup trucks are often used in fleets and by workers who would benefit from electrification.

Whether it’s a cable repairman or a plumber, they tend to park their trucks in a lot overnight and then cover a relatively small number of miles during the day as they make service calls.

Businesses also are in a position to make the upfront investment in electric vehicles and then recoup the cost over time.

GOP pushback

Still, Biden’s aggressive promotion of EV’s has run into Republican resistance as critics say his plans are essentially asking middle-class Americans to subsidize fancy cars for rich people.

The White House fact sheet released Tuesday seemed to respond to that in its description of the administration’s proposed point-of-sale incentives for electric vehicles.

“These incentives will not go towards expensive luxury models,” according to the fact sheet.

Republicans also have questioned whether a rapid expansion of EV’s is realistic.

During a hearing earlier this month, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., questioned whether the electric grid is equipped to handle a swift and significant expansion of the electric vehicle fleet.

“Today, EV’s account for less than 2 percent of the cars on the road,” Upton said. “And we are simply not ready to charge EV’s at scale or potentially during emergencies. Instead, we need to let the market and consumer choice drive the adoption of EV’s.”

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