Tesla fans complain Biden ignores company’s EV leadership

Tom Krisher
AP Auto Writer

Detroit – Some of Tesla’s loyal band of devotees and CEO Elon Musk say the White House has been unfairly snubbing America’s top-selling electric vehicle brand in its support for EVs as a way to fight climate change – and they’re making their discontent known.

More than 33,000 people have signed a petition on change.org, asking President Joe Biden to acknowledge Tesla’s electric vehicle leadership. The petitioners have accused the president of ignoring Tesla, a non-union company, in favor of the traditional Detroit automakers, which are unionized.

President Joe Biden arrives to speak during a visit to the General Motors Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Detroit.

Musk and Tesla’s loyalists have been expressing such complaints since Biden took office last year. But the new petition is their first large-scale public effort to press their argument that the company and its devotion to clean energy vehicles are being overlooked by the government. The president has largely ignored Tesla and often celebrates the notion that “good-paying union jobs” would be created if the United States can lead the world in the manufacture of electric vehicles.

“This is an insult to the Americans who work for Tesla,” the Tesla petition says. It calls on Biden “to do the right thing and acknowledge Tesla for its hard work in making EVs a possibility for Americans.”

The president has visited Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. factories, met with their CEOs and praised them for taking a lead in electric vehicle development. In addition, he has driven new battery-powered vehicles from GM, Ford and Stellantis NV (formerly Fiat Chrysler) and displayed them, with some fanfare, on the White House South Lawn.

But last week, when Biden met with a group of CEOs including leaders of Ford and GM, Musk was absent.

The administration’s perceived neglect has irked some in Musk’s huge fan base of over 72 million followers on Twitter, as well as Musk himself. “For reasons unknown,” Musk tweeted Sunday, referring to the president, “@potus is unable to say the word ‘Tesla.’ ”

After Biden tweeted on Thursday that GM, Ford and others are building more electric vehicles in the U.S. than ever, Musk observed on Twitter that “Biden is treating the American public like fools.”

Biden has often touted union jobs that he says would be created by his stalled “Build Back Better” legislation. During the 2020 presidential election, he also drew support from the United Auto Workers and other unions. When the White House hosted other U.S. automakers in touting electric vehicle sales goals in August, Tesla wasn’t invited.

On Monday, a White House official who insisted on anonymity to discuss the administration’s thinking conceded that Tesla is a big part of why the rest of the industry is moving ahead on electric vehicles. But on the question of unions, the official stressed that Biden favors collective bargaining by workers.

Biden and congressional Democrats have pushed tax credits to give U.S. automakers with union employees the inside track on EV sales. The “Build Back Better” package included a proposed $7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy electric vehicles through 2026. The following year, only purchases of U.S.-made electric vehicles would qualify for the credit. The base credit would rise by $4,500 for a vehicle made at a U.S. factory that operates under a union-negotiated bargaining agreement.

It’s not entirely clear what the pay is for Tesla’s production workers at the company’s non-unionized factories in California, Texas and Nevada. One worker in California who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation from the company said he earns $24 an hour after working more than six years. (A message was left Monday seeking comment from Tesla.)

By comparison, full-time production workers represented by the UAW make about $32 an hour after four years or less. They also qualify for profit-sharing and other bonuses.

Last year, Tesla sold 936,000 new electric vehicles worldwide. It doesn’t break out U.S. sales. But Motorintelligence.com estimated those sales at just over 352,000. Ford was next at 27,000, followed by GM at just under 25,000.

Ford, GM and other automakers are rolling out a host of new electric vehicles in the coming years, including battery versions of popular full-size pickup trucks.