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Election year politics roil the EV transition

Mike Magner and Valerie Yurk, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Automotive News

WASHINGTON — The U.S. auto industry faces a triple threat on the road to cleaner cars and trucks: lagging consumer demand for electric vehicles, a potential glut of cheap electric vehicles from China and the possible rollback of Biden administration moves if Donald Trump becomes president again.

All of that is raising questions about whether the EV revolution in the United States could end before it really begins, especially if a victorious Trump follows through on promises to rescind regulations and financial incentives for zero-emission vehicles.

Still, many industry analysts are confident the transition will continue even in a new Republican administration because so many billions of dollars have been invested and the global market is shifting rapidly toward EVs in response to climate change.

A slower pace for EVs in America would further the lead for China, which dominates the global market at 60 percent of worldwide EV sales, according to the International Energy Agency.

“If we don’t continue to incentivize both the purchase of the vehicles domestically and the creation of the infrastructure, the charging stations, we run the risk of falling behind in the technology,” said Alan Taub, a former auto executive who now heads the Electric Vehicle Center at the University of Michigan.

The stakes are too high to let that happen, said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, senior resident fellow in the climate and energy program at the left-center think tank Third Way and a former chief economist at both Ford Motor Co. and the U.S. Department of Commerce. She noted that there are 4 million jobs in the U.S. auto industry and the local economic impact of workers who make around $100,000 a year is enormous.

 

“What’s going to happen if the politics shifts to Republicans after November? Are they going to say, ‘OK, (China) can have our auto industry?’ Who’s going to want to see the industry move?” Hughes-Cromwick said.

Trump has made clear his animosity toward EVs, telling advocates for the technology to “ROT IN HELL” in a Christmas message on Truth Social. This month he told oil executives that he would end the EV transition and asked them to donate $1 billion to his presidential campaign, according to The Washington Post.

The message from Trump is ominous, said Troy Stangarone, senior director and fellow at the Korea Economic Institute, a Washington-based organization promoting U.S. ties to South Korea, which shipped more than 1.2 million vehicles to the U.S. in 2023.

“The most likely outcome of a Trump presidency would be to slow or stall a transition to EVs in the United States,” Stangarone said via email. “There is a clear strategy by China to become the global leader in EVs and EV battery technology and the Trump campaign’s approach to this would only help China expand its lead on the United States.”

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