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With EV batteries in demand, some in GOP say 'no' to China

Benjamin J. Hulac, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Automotive News

Two senior Republicans in Congress, Rep. Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, criticized the Energy Department in December after it awarded $200 million in grant funding to Microvast, a Texas-based lithium battery company with links to China, to build a new battery manufacturing plant in Tennessee.

And this month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, said he nixed a potential Ford Motor Co. electric-battery plant in the state over worries about national security due to the automaker’s manufacturing ties with China.

As Americans snap up electric cars, some Republicans are adopting a tough-on-China stance even for projects that would create jobs for Americans and perhaps advance U.S. battery-manufacturing prowess.

Experts say the Chinese presence in the electric-vehicle market is already nearly ubiquitous, that corporate partnership between Chinese and foreign automakers, including those in the U.S., is standard and that reaching America’s climate goals without Chinese technology would be exceedingly difficult.

Hewing a hawkish stance on China is nothing new in Washington. This Congress promises a hardened focus on the country, given the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition that Speaker Kevin McCarthy established to scrutinize China’s communist party.

But blocking jobs and investment on U.S. soil is peculiar, Ian Lange, an economics professor at the Colorado School of Mines, said in an interview. “Governors don’t usually go, ‘Eh, maybe not,’” Lange said, noting that much of the domestic investment in battery plants is flowing to conservative-leaning states.


Governors across the country, including Republicans Mike DeWine of Ohio, Bill Lee of Tennessee and Brian Kemp of Georgia, have welcomed battery plants to their states, as have Democratic governors, like Laura Kelly, who broke ground on a $4 billion Panasonic Energy electric-vehicle battery plant in De Soto, Kan., in November.

China dominates the market for minerals that go into EV batteries, Lange said. For the U.S. and American automakers to get into the electric vehicle market, they have to rely in part on Chinese firms, he said. “It would be really hard to build a robust supply chain without some connection to China.”

Youngkin said he rejected the Ford bid for a plant, which would have been built in partnership with Contemporary Amperex Technology, or CATL, a Chinese firm, over ties between the company and China’s political leadership.

“They are influenced if not controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” Youngkin said Jan. 20 on Bloomberg TV. “The structure was CATL and the Chinese Communist Party would have full operational control over the technology,” he said. “I would have loved to have had Ford come to Virginia and build a battery plant if they were not using it as a front for a company that is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”


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