The commitments from General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler to pivot toward electric gives Michigan drivers hope for a greener future.

DETROIT, Mich.—Automakers are preparing to increase fuel efficiency and decrease car-related pollution under a Joe Biden presidency. 

And Michiganders are watching with interest. 

In Grand Rapids, a Tesla employee named Anthony told charging station operator Charge Point that his love of electric vehicles motivated his career. He started to ride electric motorcycles over a decade ago,l and his tinkering is what got him his job as a Tesla Mobile Ranger, someone who goes to service Tesla vehicles across the state. 

He sees more interest around west Michigan all the time for electric vehicles, and a demand for a cleaner way to get around helps motivate the Big Three to follow Anthony’s lead.

And his enthusiasm for electric is shared by Tyler Burke from Shelbyville. Burke sees the push from the Big Three as the mainstream acceptance that electric vehicle startups can’t provide on their own.

“I’m happy they are pushing in the direction of electrification,” he told The ‘Gander. “I believe it legitimizes [electric vehicles] for the skeptics, at least more so than startups like Tesla and Rivian. It also means a lot of money going into charging networks and research for safer, smarter, and cleaner battery technology.”

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Burke celebrated the succeeding snowball effect of electric vehicle adoption and cheered the Big Three’s foray into the industry as providing more, hopefully cheaper, options for potential electric drivers and furthering the trend toward a more mainstream electric vehicle adoption and acceptance across America. That, in turn, will help forestall calamitous climate change, he added.

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The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a major industry trade association, recognized that change is coming at a board meeting in early December. Alliance CEO John Bozzella said automakers are committed to working with the Biden administration, which will renew the fight against climate change and likely will undo gas mileage rollbacks under President Donald Trump.

Those rollbacks were supported by many automakers, including Fiat-Chrysler, in a lawsuit. California has for years had authority from the federal government to set its own pollution standards in recognition of the poor air quality in places like Los Angeles. This became a crucial part of the fight on auto emission standards when the Trump administration proposed massive rollbacks to the aggressive plan to curb emissions proposed by former President Barack Obama. 

The lawsuit emerged when California flexed its authority in a deal with several automakers to impose stricter standards than the Trump administration’s proposal, and Trump responded by cutting off California’s authority to set its own standards. California sued to keep its standards stricter than Trump’s, which NBC reported many in the industry found too lax. Ford was among them, siding with California in the lawsuit.  

In a sign of the political change coming in January, General Motors dropped out of the lawsuit in November. The company’s CEO, Mary Barra said in a letter that dropping the suit was just the beginning of GM’s commitment.

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“We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the President-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions,” Barra said in the letter.

GM has earmarked nearly $30 billion for producing new electric vehicle models, more than half of which will be designed for US markets. 

The Big Three’s Big Plans for Electrification

Within the next few years, GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler plan to offer all-electric pickup trucks as alternatives to petroleum-powered trucks that are now the top-selling vehicles in the country. Ford plans an electric full-size delivery van, and GM promises 30 new electric models globally by 2025.

GM has dedicated Detroit-Hamtramck entirely to electric vehicles. The plant will create 2,200 jobs and will produce an all-electric pickup truck and an autonomous vehicle for ride-hailing services called the Cruise Origin. 

Ford’s Flat Rock plant is also dedicated entirely to electric. The plant will add 900 jobs  It, too, will be producing autonomous vehicles set to release in 2021. 

And Fiat-Chrysler is adding capacity at all it’s Michigan plants, creating more than 6,000 jobs. Among it’s projects is the electrification of the Jeep line, into both hybrid and fully-electric variants. 

The mix of consumer and commercial electric vehicles being made in Michigan is noteworthy according to electric vehicle enthusiast publication Elektrek.

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“Nearly every automaker also makes commercial vehicles, which are increasingly getting electrified,” wrote Elektrek’s Bradley Berman. “The list of those commercial enterprises based in Detroit is impressive.”

This dovetails with the Biden plan to push electrification in the next four years. Biden has pledged to replace the entire federal automotive fleet with electric vehicles, made primarily by Detroit’s Big Three automakers. 

All together, this creates a powerful position for Michigan in an electric-driven, and potentially self-driven, future. That can have an important impact on fighting climate change and economic hardship both, said Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield).

“I think that what America needs to do, to deal with climate change, has tremendous possibility for rural areas in energy production, in solar, in wind, in energy storage, and transmission, and in electrification of vehicles,” Levin told MLive.

Electrifying to Fight Climate Change

The plan also comes at a time when Michigan’s Republican-led House of Representatives moved to end an agreement that allowed the noted electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla to sell cars in Michigan. Michigan law requires manufacturers to sell cars through an intermediary, which Tesla and other automotive startups don’t do.

With GM pivoting from opposing the California standards to dedicating itself to electric vehicles, the future looks brighter for electrification.

And electrification is a good idea across the board, says Karl Bloss, vice president of the Southwest Michigan Electric Vehicle Association.

“The carbon footprint is much lower with an electric vehicle,” the retired chemical engineer told The ‘Gander. “One of the things we can all do [is] electrify everything—not just our vehicles but your home.”

And build up a clean energy industry to support it, he added. That, too, is part of Biden’s environmental plan. And it’s another way to strengthen the midwestern economy. 

“Right now, the renewable energy sector drives greatly more jobs than does the coal sector in Michigan and throughout the Midwest,” Howard Learner, director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, told MLive. “Accelerating solar energy and energy storage, wind energy, and energy efficiency is good for jobs, good for economic growth, and good for the environment in Michigan and through the Midwest states.”

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Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) said she’s pushing to get everyone to the table during these talks. 

Environmental groups will lobby for stricter standards, she said, but the administration must be mindful of protecting American jobs. The determination of the Biden administration to buy American-made electric vehicles is a good start, but battery production needs to be brought to the United States as well. Finding a united front for the Big Three automakers is important to that effort, she said. 

“Something is going to have to give, and a divided industry is going to make it a bigger challenge,” she said. “We do have to clean up the environment.”

GM says new battery technology will cut electric vehicle costs so they’re equal to gas-powered vehicles, but that won’t come until the new emission standards end.