US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg probably didn’t drive Michigan’s “damn roads” to this week’s Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference, held at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
If he had, he would notice that the reality here doesn’t always match the ambitious rhetoric.
Still, Buttigieg, who is the keynote speaker today, is a welcome presence in a state trying to figure out how to compete for electric vehicle investment as the auto industry evolves.
The rubber will soon meet the road — and in many ways it already has — if the state continues to lose critical investments from the Detroit Three and foreign automakers.
The competition for the future of the automobile is real, and this is where Lansing’s ideological political agendas become increasingly expensive. The state capitol offers anything but certainty right now, and while that’s not the only factor in multi-billion dollar investments, it certainly is a factor.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signaled that she at least takes the competition seriously. It has signed with Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin the Regional Electric Vehicle for the Midwest Memorandum of Understanding to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in the Midwest.
And she’s urging the legislature — and taxpayers to the tune of $135 million — to pour last-minute cash into Ford Motor Co. to maintain its investments in southeast Michigan by retooling factories here for vehicles. and electrical and internal combustion engine parts.
Ford projects that its investments would create 3,000 new jobs at local facilities.
Economically and symbolically, this is a fight Michigan cannot afford to lose.
Indiana recently landed an investment of more than $2.5 billion from Stellantis and South Korea’s Samsung SDI in its second planned electric vehicle battery plant in the country, in Kokomo, Ind. This should create 1,400 jobs.
In January, Intel announced it would invest $20 billion in two new microchip fabs in neighboring Ohio, just outside Columbus. That’s great for the Midwest, which competes with the South for foreign automakers and the labor they need to produce.
But that’s not good for Michigan.
The historical presumption has been that production will always take place here. But it’s going to take real collaboration and real money to compete for the future of car talent and production.
The state’s electric vehicle infrastructure is also essential, and this is an area where public-private partnerships are essential. Some of those relationships already exist here, and the Whitmer administration should pursue more with the support of Republican lawmakers. There is not much room for ideology on issues so critical to the economic growth of the state.
The demand is there for electric vehicles, whether it came naturally or by force. To be sure, gas prices that have skyrocketed under the Biden administration are a contributing factor, and one the president doesn’t seem overly concerned about.
He laid out a position for American consumers moving forward: Now is the time to make the switch to electric vehicles. He even invoked the Defense Production Act to bolster supply chain materials critical to electric vehicle batteries.
And all of these moving parts, including supply chain issues and all that complicates Michigan’s manufacturing economy, underscore the reality that electric vehicles are here to stay along with internal combustion engines.
Michigan’s goal should be to continue leading the country in auto production regardless.
— The Detroit News