Detroit — President Joe Biden kicked off the opening of General Motors Co.’s only Detroit assembly plant Wednesday with a tour and a spin in an electric Hummer truck.
“Anyone want to jump in the back, or on the roof?,” Biden joked with reporters and attendees after a tour of the new Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, which will produce the new electrified Hummer and other electric vehicles. “These suckers are something else!”
Biden is scheduled to speak at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday about the plant’s opening and the finalization of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $7.5 billion for electric vehicle chargers.
Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, GM’s second EV plant so far within its North American footprint, is central to the company’s plan to pivot away from gas and diesel-powered vehicles. During Wednesday’s visit, the plant is also serving as a backdrop for the president to showcase what the infrastructure bill supports: union jobs in Detroit building a green future.
During the plant tour, Biden commented on how “exciting” he found the new plant, said GM is helping to “change everything,” and said jobs at the plant are among the “most coveted” of union positions, according to pool reports.
He said that if he had been asleep for the last 50 years and awoke to the new GM vehicles, he would swap his favorite Corvette for one “title for title.”
GM executives, including CEO Mary Barra, also were in attendance alongside United Auto Workers President Ray Curry and UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, head of the union’s GM Department.
“For him to help us promote those products built by the UAW members, the Local 22, and really get behind it just miles away from UAW and GM headquarters is really a big deal for us,” Dittes told The Detroit News in a Monday interview. “It’s going to be a great day.”
The Detroit-Hamtramck plant was earmarked for closure by GM in 2018, but instead the automaker — following a 40-day strike by the UAW in fall 2019 — decided to invest $2.2 billion here to make EVs.
Biden is expected to not only celebrate the passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed on Monday, but also to push for the passage of the more expansive Build Back Better Act, focused on social safety net and climate policy. It would contain billions of dollars for re-tooling auto factories and other manufacturing facilities to build low-emission and clean energy technology, akin to the GM plant.
The plant is now in the pre-production phase for the GMC Hummer EV pickup truck, which will arrive at dealerships by year’s end. The Hummer SUV and electric Chevrolet Silverado will also be built here. When fully operational, the plant is supposed to employ 2,200.
“I think President Biden is going to be thrilled with the experience of the EV Hummer,” said Gerald Johnson, GM’s executive vice president of global manufacturing, in an interview. “I think when he’s finished the day with us, I won’t have to tell him anything. It will be evident, and I think he’ll get it.”
Factory Zero is one of five North American plants GM has so far slated to build electric vehicles. The automaker plans to sell 1 million EVs globally by 2025 and wants to have a zero-emissions lineup by 2035.
Biden flew from Washington to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon on Air Force One, along with most of the Democrats in Michigan’s congressional delegation. U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, were not part of the group.
Slotkin’s office said she stayed in town to cast votes Wednesday afternoon. Tlaib was one of six Democrats in the House to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill this month because she objected to the bill being decoupled from a larger social spending and climate package.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was unable to attend the event Wednesday because of previously scheduled meetings, including with leaders of the semiconductor industry in California. She plans to meet Thursday with the Semiconductor Industry Association Board of Directors to discuss ongoing efforts to increase domestic chip production and will attend the association’s annual event.
The association’s 2021 awards dinner is scheduled for Thursday in San Jose. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is listed among the sponsors for the gathering.
Biden landed at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport aboard Air Force One around 2:20 p.m., where he briefly spoke with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II on the tarmac. About an hour later, he arrived at the GM complex, where he will deliver remarks later this afternoon.
Biden’s visit is an opportunity to bring national exposure to advances in the U.S. auto industry, said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. She said automakers are building high-performing electric vehicles that people want with long-range batteries.
“The more he shows the American people that these vehicles are real … then we’re helping transform the industry. Keeping the U.S. auto industry at the front of innovation and technology,” she said. “We put the world on wheels, now we’re the new state leadership on mobility. That’s what he’s doing, reinforcing those messages.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, released a statement ahead of the visit welcoming the president “at this critical time when we are delivering for American workers,” citing the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes her legislation to strengthen Buy American laws.
“Next, we are going to pass the Build Back Better Act to put more electric vehicles on the road and make sure they are made right here in Michigan,” she said. “Our workers are the best in the world, and there’s nothing more American than ensuring that our products and technology are built in America.”
Michigan Republicans in Congress on Wednesday slammed Biden ahead of his visit for rising inflation, supply chain shortages, the staggering cost of his “Build Back Broke” climate and social policy plan. They also highlighted reports that he’s allegedly contemplating shutting down a segment of the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac — a charge the White House denies.
“They’re trying to put a bow on top of this big pile of garbage that’s happening in the in the economy right now,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland.
“The simple fact is real people are being hurt. Whether it is in the cost of autos — which is a huge issue for us in Michigan and for me in my district with a tremendous number of suppliers. Whether it’s getting washing machines and refrigerators and things like that. It is having a real impact on people.”
Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said he’s glad GM’s electric vehicle production will happen at the repurposed plant in Michigan. But he added that “there will probably be less employees” because it doesn’t take as many people to build EVs as gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.
“So we’re gonna have to find a way to make sure that the others have the opportunity to find a life calling, as it were, in another field,” Walberg said.
And Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, ahead of the visit questioned a proposal in the Build Back Better bill that would offer up to $12,500 in consumer rebates for people who buy electric vehicles, including $4,500 for cars made by union workers.
“Why do you only get a tax credit if it’s a union-made car? What’s the matter with the non-union people? Why can’t we do both?” McClain said. “If we’re going to give tax credits, let’s give tax credits for innovation, which works, and let’s stop picking winners and losers.”
Canadian officials, foreign automakers and Tesla Inc. have opposed the EV tax credit proposal. Asked about the opposition on the way to Detroit, White House spokesman Chris Meagher said Biden is doing what he promised by “rebuilding” the middle class.
“He’s long said that the middle class built America, and that unions built the middle class. He’s supporting providing workers the opportunity to organize for good jobs, good wages and good benefits,” Meagher said.
“There’s a long history of using tax credits to incentivize choices, and that’s true here. They’ll lower the cost of EVs by $12,500 for a middle class family, they’ll bolster domestic manufacturing supplies across the country, and they’ll position America to out-compete the world when it comes to EVs.”
Despite its detailed EV plans, General Motors has ground to make up with Wall Street investors who still see Tesla Inc. and electric startups as the more valuable investments. Executives and experts expect that to change as GM gets more of its new EVs, powered by its proprietary Ultium batteries, on the market.
The presidential visit Wednesday “should help further bolster Detroit’s name in the EV game,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com Inc., a vehicle information website, in a note.
“It wasn’t too long ago when the Big Three were somewhat outshadowed by startups dominating the EV news cycle. But they’ve since caught up rather aggressively, particularly within the electrified pickup space, which is vital to the Detroit automakers: they cannot afford to lose ground with trucks, which are their bread and butter vehicles.”
Washington Bureau Chief Melissa Nann Burke and Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.
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