Biden touts 35-state EV charger network at Detroit auto show

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Detroit — President Joe Biden test drove an all-electric Cadillac SUV and slid into the front seat of a new Corvette as part of a mid-day tour Wednesday of Detroit's resurrected auto show ahead of an afternoon speech on the auto industry's transition to electric vehicles.

In an address on media day at the North American International Auto Show, Biden announced $900 million in grants for electric vehicle chargers across 35 states, including Michigan, the first round of $5 billion in funding appropriated through the bipartisan infrastructure law.

"You all are going to be part of a network of 500,000 charging stations ... installed by the IBEW (labor union), who I owe a special thanks to for the last election," the Democratic president said.

Biden added: "The great American road trip is going to be fully electrified whether you're driving along the coast ... or on I-75 here in Michigan."

Biden, a self-described "car guy" who owns a 1967 Corvette Stingray, kicked off the first Detroit auto show to be held in more than three years after the coronavirus pandemic upended the annual gathering and organizers moved the show from its traditional date in January.

On the auto show floor at Huntington Place, Biden made his way over to the Chevrolet stand late Wednesday morning, where he was greeted by General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra and GM President Mark Reuss before he slid into the front seat of an orange Corvette Z06.

“He says he’s driving home,” Barra said.

Biden also checked out the new Chevrolet Silverado EV with Barra. GM will start assembling the all-electric pickup truck early next year at Factory Zero, the automaker's Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.

At Ford Motor Co.'s stand, the president toured the Blue Oval's metal with Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. Biden and the great-grandson of Henry Ford looked at an electric Ford E-Transit utility van.

Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. shows President Joe Biden the Ford display during a tour Tuesday of the North American International Auto Show at Huntington Place in Detroit.

Biden then moved on to the Stellantis NV display, where CEO Carlos Tavares showed Biden a Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV that is assembled at the automaker's Mack Avenue plant in Detroit.

Biden also got to drive the Cadillac Lyriq, the luxury GM brand's first battery-powered SUV, for a short distance down a carpeted section of the auto floor inside Detroit's riverfront convention center.

"I like the Corvette," Biden told reporters from the front seat of the Lyriq.

With a Secret Service agent riding shotgun in the Cadillac EV, the president signaled his preference for Chevy's muscle car.

"It's a beautiful car, but I love the Corvette," Biden said.

President Joe Biden looking pretty good in a Corvette Z06 convertible during a tour of the 2022 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The president was joined on the auto show floor by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, all Democrats. United Auto Workers President Ray Curry and White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy also joined the tour.

In his remarks, Biden credited Whitmer for inviting him to tour the auto show.

"Just looking at them and driving them gives me a sense of optimism, although I like the speed too," Biden said.

Biden's auto show speech focused on how major legislation passed by Democrats in his first two years in office will catapult the U.S. to electric vehicle leadership. 

He said the administration will be spending $135 billion to advance the country's EV future through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPs and Science Act, and the climate and tax legislation passed last month.

"When you see these big projects in your hometown," he said, "I want you to feel the way I feel. Pride. Pride in what we can do when we do it together.”

Biden arrived at Detroit Metro Airport aboard Air Force One just after 10:30 a.m. He was greeted on the tarmac by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.

Several members of Michigan's delegation traveled to Detroit on Wednesday morning with Biden on Air Force One. They included Stabenow, D-Lansing; U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Waterford Township; Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township; and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield,

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Michael Regan, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, also were part of the president's entourage at the auto show at Huntington Place, formerly known as TCF Center.

Biden’s appearance drew two tiny groups of protesters that were ordered by police to stay behind a yellow barricade across the street from the main entrance of Huntington Place.

Biden's visit to Detroit is part of a nationwide tour of leading administration officials promoting three pieces of legislation that will boost clean energy infrastructure and research, including pouring billions into accelerating EV adoption, as Democrats head into the midterm elections this November. 

The infrastructure law that passed last year appropriated $550 billion for highways, bridges, transit, broadband and other infrastructure investments, including EV chargers.

The CHIPs and Science Act designated $52 billion for domestic semiconductor chip production, a crucial component for electric vehicles that has been in short supply since the pandemic began.

The "Inflation Reduction Act" passed just last month included expanded tax credits and grants for EV manufacturing and revamped a tax credit for EV buyers, though industry advocates say many vehicles won't qualify for the expanded credits for a few years due to stringent domestic content requirements. 

President Joe Biden shakes hands with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, as he arrives at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Wednesday. Wayne County Executive Warren Evans is at left.

Republicans have framed the policies as out-of-control spending that has contributed to inflation.

Ahead of the president's visit, one Republican congressman from northern Michigan said the Biden administration's push to accelerate EV adoption will hurt the state.

"When you push something too fast, you're going to make mistakes that were avoidable had you taken a very balanced approach," said U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet.

Republicans want to protect the environment, Bergman added.

But "government is not the one to be making those (manufacturing) decisions," he said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also touted the legislation last week at the Ford Motor Co. Rouge Electric Vehicle Center.

The officials aim to illustrate how the investments have bolstered the economy as it emerges from the pandemic, hoping to ease voters' concerns as the nation heads into a competitive midterm election cycle. 

Democrats are facing voters who are experiencing a mixed economic outlook: Gas prices have been easing for weeks, but inflation remains high. The consumer price index, which tracks price changes in a wide variety of goods and services, increased 0.1% in August and 8.3% over the last year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data reported Tuesday. 

The Federal Reserve is expected to continue to raise interest rates to bring inflation under control, but that has raised fears of a recession as regulators throw cold water on an overheating economy. 

Democrats have argued that infrastructure and clean energy investments will create jobs in the long run and improve national security by bringing supply chains closer to home. Republicans have raised concerns that the spending bills will further increase inflationary pressures. 

Stabenow told The News ahead of the visit that it's important for Biden and his counterparts to be telling the public how the legislation will impact them.

"We have a congressional story to tell that is very strong, in the support not only of the future in terms of electric and autonomous vehicles but in bringing the supply chain home to America," she said.

Twitter: @rbeggin