Dingell challenges GOP lawmaker over claim that Ford does China's bidding

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — A GOP lawmaker from Virginia used a Congressional subcommittee hearing Tuesday to allege that a Chinese company will control Ford Motor Co.'s $3.5 billion battery plant in Marshall.

By the end of the hearing, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, had joined the panel to rebut the claims. Dingell serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee but is not a member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that met to review whether the Biden administration's clean energy policies were working.

U.S. Rep Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, defends Ford Motor Co.'s battery project with CATL of China: "We need to make sure we are competitive and staying at the forefront of innovation and technology in this country, not ceding it to China."

"Other (members of Congress) have expressed concern about the nature of partnerships and joint ventures between United States companies and Chinese companies, as these entities attempt to take advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act's tax credits and other incentives," said Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Virginia, chair of the subcommittee.

"Just one example in my own state, the Commonwealth of Virginia: our Gov. Glenn Youngkin withdrew our state from the process of incentivizing Ford Motor Co.'s proposed EV battery factory because of Ford's subservient role in a partnership with a Chinese company."

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director for the Energy, Climate and Environment Center at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, also claimed that the Chinese government "will be able to control both the technology and the factory operations" at the Marshall plant and could "pause (the plant) anytime due to political tensions between the United States and China."

Ford's planned battery plant will be the first automaker-backed lithium iron phosphate, or LFP, battery plant in the United States. The plant is expected to open in 2026 and to create 2,500 jobs.

Ford will be the sole owner of the operation: It will own the land, employ the workers and operate the plant. It will license technology to build the batteries from China-based Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd (CATL), the largest battery maker in the world. The agreement is not a joint venture, and there are no cross shareholdings.

However, the licensing agreement has caused an uproar among several Republicans in Washington, who have argued it poses a national security risk and that China could benefit from taxpayer-funded subsidies intended to incentivize domestic electric vehicle production. Ford said those assertions are "categorically false" and that CATL will receive no U.S. tax dollars.

At the end of the two-and-a-half hour hearing, Dingell dropped in to the subcommittee, saying she had caught wind of the comments made at the beginning.

"I've got nothing but the greatest of respect for all of my colleagues, but I've got to defend the workers from my district," she said, calling the claims made about Ford a "gross mischaracterization."

"We need to make sure we are competitive and staying at the forefront of innovation and technology in this country, not ceding it to China," Dingell said. "If Ford wasn't doing this, the reality is they could import these batteries from China. They could build them in Mexico, or just offer batteries that cost 30% more (with) the more expensive chemistry. We've got to really think about what we're doing."

Leaders at Ford have also noted that competitors such as Tesla Inc. and Honda Motor Co. import batteries directly from CATL, which Ford has also done.

State officials in Michigan, which has approved up to $210 million in state grants and $772 million in property tax exemptions for the project, also have defended the project.

Ford spokesperson Melissa Miller said the Marshall battery plant is "good for the country, good for the planet and good for Ford’s business. We’re creating 2,500 new U.S. jobs, while helping to strengthen domestic manufacturing and supply chains and reduce carbon emissions."


Twitter: @rbeggin