The great American road trip is going to be electrified, Biden says at Detroit show

GM boss Mary Barra shows a Chevrolet Silverado EV to Joe Biden during his visit to the Detroit Auto Show. Picture: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters.

GM boss Mary Barra shows a Chevrolet Silverado EV to Joe Biden during his visit to the Detroit Auto Show. Picture: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters.

Published Sep 19, 2022


Detroit - US President Joe Biden touted an electric automotive future last week as the new-generation models shared the stage with traditional petrol power at a revived Detroit Auto Show.

"The great American Road Trip is going to be fully electrified," Biden proclaimed after test-driving an EV during a gleeful spin through showroom floor. "When you're driving coast to coast along I-10 or on I-75 here in Michigan, charging stations will be up and easy to find as gas (petrol) stations are now."

The visit by Biden, a self-professed "car guy," has boosted the profile of the Detroit gathering, which is much smaller than in years past, with most foreign carmakers and newer players like Tesla not presenting.

While petrol-powered cars still dominate US roads, Detroit auto giants have unveiled more EVs as they seek to wrest control of a growing market from Tesla and newer upstarts.

The US President was also impressed with the Cadillac Lyriq electric SUV. Picture: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters.

"People are on the precipice of a massive adoption of EVs," Chevrolet Vice President Steve Majoros told AFP shortly before a presentation highlighting the General Motors brand's slate of electric versions of top-selling trucks. "More and more Americans are ready," said Majoros, who said the increased number of charging stations has boosted confidence in EVs.

Stellantis brand Jeep released a 30-year commemorative edition of the popular Grand Cherokee SUV, as well as a new fifth-generation model that is the first Jeep plug-in hybrid.

Ford presented its seventh-generation Mustang on Wednesday night at an evening event (read about the new sports car here), complete with V8 muscle to signify that Detroit’s not done with traditional muscle just yet. The company organised a "stampede" to Detroit's Hart Plaza of Mustangs from the six earlier generations, begun in Tacoma Washington and crossing nine states.

But the Detroit show has otherwise been short of the sort of glitzy reveals of years past, a shift that partly reflects changing preferences of companies who now prefer to market directly to consumers in online launch events.

Corvette fan

Midway through the morning, the Detroit convention center was cleared of journalists to secure the space for Biden, who was greeted by GM Chief Executive Mary Barra and other top GM officials before test-driving the Cadillac Lyriq, a luxury EV.

The US president said he liked the Lyriq, but took a particular shine to an Orange Corvette he had earlier examined, according to a White House pool press report.

Picture: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters.

"He said he's driving it home," Barra said of Biden's reaction to the petrol-powered Corvette. Beneath the bonnet of the current Corvette Z06 is the most powerful normally aspirated V8 ever, but GM has already confirmed that an electric version of the iconic sports car is on the way (read more here), although it doesn’t appear that the EV will replace the combustion versions just yet.

Biden announced that the administration had approved funding for the first round of EV charging stations included in a $7.5 billion (R132 bn) program funded by the 2021 infrastructure bill.

A White House fact sheet highlighted a deluge of announcements by companies that have amounted to nearly $85 billion in investment on manufacturing of EVs, batteries, and chargers in the United States since Biden took office.

Biden has a long and generally warm relationship with Detroit giants after presiding as vice president over the bailouts following the 2008 financial crisis. As president, he has visited both GM and Ford.

Biden "has given a lot of kudos to the Detroit automakers," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for the automotive research firm Edmunds.

"He's really highlighted a lot of their products," she said. "He's been seen driving a lot of their products at the White House and all sorts of other places."

Sourcing rules

But carmakers have been griping about a provision in the just-passed Inflation Reduction Act that sets strict sourcing requirements for federal EV subsidies.

The requirement is meant to prod carmakers into using EV batteries produced in North America as well as critical materials sourced from North America or countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement.

The car companies are hoping officials in Washington show flexibility in implementing the rule.

Chevrolet Eqinox EV.

Majoros said it is too soon to say whether the rule will prevent new subsidies for key vehicles, such as the Equinox, an SUV unveiled last Thursday with a starting price of $30 000 (R531 000), an affordable level in a pricey space.

"We're looking at future plans, we're studying how things might adapt what we do from a sourcing perspective," Majoros said.

The GM brand plans to begin modest production of the Equinox in 2023, but 2024 is expected to be a "big year" with higher output, Majoros said. Production will go still higher in 2025, but Chevy isn't releasing specific targets.

Majoros said Chevrolet has capacity to "flex" output depending on demand, adding, "There's a lot of questions about the rate at which industry will adapt."