Becca Mahon/Daily.  Buy this photo.

U.S. President Joe Biden, a self-proclaimed “car guy,” spoke at the new Ford Motor Co. Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn Tuesday afternoon. Biden took a tour of the facility guided by members of United Auto Workers (UAW) and had the opportunity to sit in the new all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning truck before it was publicly revealed by Ford Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

“My name is Joe Biden and I’m a car guy,” Biden said. “I’m standing here, because about 180 years ago, when I first got elected to the Senate, the UAW elected me.”  

Biden opened his speech by commenting on the importance of having pride in one’s work, which he said he learned from his great-grandfather. Biden said he believes UAW members in Metro Detroit embody dignity and respect in their work, which he hopes is modeled in communities around the country. 

“It’s not labor, it’s union,” Biden said. “Because what you allow people to do is hold their heads up, make a decent living and have pride in what they do.” 

Biden noted that workplace pride is inextricably linked with the automobile industry. As the industry transitions globally from fuel-powered cars and trucks to electric vehicles, Biden said the electric car market is a race to the future, and one that China is currently winning.

In China’s post-pandemic stimulus plans, the government prioritized new energy vehicles (NEV) and made plans to support electric vehicle startups in their early stage with government and commercial purchases. China currently has the largest NEV market in the world and, according to Biden, manufactures the majority of the batteries used to power electric cars worldwide.

“China has the largest, fastest-growing electric vehicle market in the world,” Biden said. “A key part of electric vehicles is the battery — right now 80% of the manufacturing capacity of those batteries is done in China.”

However, Biden noted that the battery for the new Lightning F-150 truck was produced domestically in Georgia, and said the U.S. can and will surpass China in the electric vehicle market if the government invests in innovation, including research conducted by public universities.

“Remember, our national labs in the United States, our universities (and) our automakers led in the development of this (electric vehicle) technology,” Biden said.

The University of Michigan promotes collaborative electric vehicle research and learning opportunities for students, including courses on electric vehicles and several activities within the Center for Electric Drive Transportation at the U-M Dearborn campus. The CEDT was created in 2011 with a grant sponsored by the federal Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, said Michigan has a “rich history” of innovation that will help to make Biden’s ambitions for the domestic electric vehicle market a reality.

“We are ready to build the next generation of electric vehicles here in Michigan,” McMorrow wrote in a statement. “Transforming our state’s economy, ensuring a more prosperous future, and safeguarding clean air and water for generations to come.”

LSA senior Ryan Fisher, chairman of the College Republicans at the University of Michigan, cautioned against making the state, and Detroit, the center of the electric vehicle revolution in the U.S. Fisher suggested in an interview with The Michigan Daily that Biden may be adamant about investing in electric vehicles and creating new Michigan jobs to garner local support for his reelection campaign in 2024.

“It’s clear that on a national level, there is some need for addressing automotive emissions and automotive factories,” Fisher said. “But I don’t think it’s wise to localize that into Michigan or Detroit … . I think it overlooks the broader theme in an effort to secure voters in a state that is purple.” 

Upon The Daily reaching out for comment, U-M College Democrats did not respond in time for publication 

A key component to America becoming a leader in electric vehicle production, Biden said, will be his American Jobs plan. The plan aims to transform infrastructure, boost manufacturing capacity and create American jobs. Specifically, Biden’s plan hopes to create accessible jobs, many without college degree requirements. Biden emphasized that 90% of the jobs outlined in the plan do not require a bachelor’s degree, and 75% do not require an associate’s.

“We’re going to be working with companies and community colleges and technical schools and union apprentice and training programs to make sure that American workers will be prepared to compete with anyone in the world,” Biden said. 

LaTricea Adams, founder and president of Black Millennials 4 Flint and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, told the Daily that Biden must consider the role K-12 education will play in preparing high school graduates to join the workforce. Adams said this must be prioritized to ensure equitable access to these jobs.

“As we’re thinking about job creation, are we truly supporting our children who will one day become adults?” Adams said. “Are we building the capacity and tenacity for young people to actually move into these jobs?” 

Theresa Landrum, Community Education Specialist of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, said the clean energy jobs outlined in Biden’s plan will also help to address current environmental justice concerns, including the high levels of pollution that disproportionately impact neighborhoods and communities where BIPOC are a majority of the population.

“The American Jobs Plan will create millions of good jobs that can help clean up our neighborhoods, safeguarding clean air and fresh water for future generations,” Landrum said in a statement. “Biden’s agenda supports clean energy now, and makes important steps towards ensuring affordable water and utilities and shutting down antiquated pipelines that threaten fresh water for millions of people internationally.” 

Biden said he plans to put Americans to work by modernizing the national highway system such that Americans driving electric vehicles will have easy access to charging stations.

“That includes putting (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) members and the union workers to work installing 50,000 charging stations along our roads and highways, our homes and our apartments,” Biden said. “IBEW is ready to do it, and they can.”

Biden spoke about hoping to pass a bipartisan infrastructure deal in the near future, but he said compromise and negotiation cannot result in inaction.

“We (the current Democrat administration) will compromise, but doing nothing is not an option,” Biden said. “The world is not waiting.” 

Biden then transitioned to speak on the implications of his jobs plan on the climate crisis. He said he and other global leaders firmly believe that creating more sustainable jobs that remain accessible will be at the heart of a greener future.

“When I think of the climate crisis, the devastation of the lives and livelihoods and health of our very planet, I think jobs,” Biden said. “If we act to save the planet, we can create millions of good paying jobs (and) generate significant economic growth to raise the standard for people not only here, but around the world.”

Despite the alluring economic benefits of new job creation, Adams said the U.S. must also work to address pre-existing climate and pollution issues — especially those caused by local industries — that continue to have health and environmental impacts on communities. For instance, Ann Arbor has just recently begun to implement a cleanup process for the Gelman Plume, an expanse of groundwater pollution that was first identified 37 years ago.

“I think there has to be some attentiveness to the legacy pollution, which came from the original culture of the automobile industries,” Adams said. “It has caused body burden and other health issues that are most pervasive in Black and Brown communities within the city of Flint.” 

Biden concluded his speech by discussing America’s potential to rise up as a global leader in both the electric vehicle industry and the fight against the climate crisis. “The future will be made right here and we’re hoping, we’re working again, we’re dreaming again, we’re discovering again, we’re leading the world again,” Biden said. “I believe in every fiber of my being that there is no single thing, nothing beyond our capacity when we act together.”

Summer News Editors Roni Kane and Paige Hodder can be reached at ronikane@umich.edu and phodder@umich.edu.