Electric vehicles become a topic of debate ahead of the midterm elections

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WASHINGTON — As November’s midterm elections approach, many Republican candidates are looking to capitalize on voter concerns about inflation by targeting a key part of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda: electric vehicles.

On social media, in political ads and at campaign rallies, some Republicans say Democrats’ push for battery-powered transportation will leave Americans broke, stranded on the road and even in the dark. Many lines of attack aren’t true — the auto industry itself has largely embraced the shift to electric vehicles, for example — and some Republican lawmakers aren’t shy about applauding the opening of vehicle battery factories. electric vehicles in the United States that promise new jobs.

But political analysts say the GOP messaging is tapping into voter hesitancy over electric vehicles, which may have put Democrats on the defensive at a time when Americans are particularly feeling a financial pinch. Electric vehicles cost an average of $65,000, a fact cited by GOP candidates.

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More than two-thirds of Americans say they are unlikely to buy an electric vehicle in the next three years, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Democrats are twice as likely to say they’re considering buying one as Republicans, 37% to 16%, respectively.

“There are still a lot of sales to be made before electric vehicles catch on with the American people,” said Jim Manley, Democratic strategist and longtime aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev .). He described early Democratic messaging suggesting electric vehicles were an immediate solution to rising gas prices as a mistake. “It creates an opening for Republicans in this election, which begins and ends with the economy and inflation.”

In a key Iowa House race, an ad from a Republican-aligned group features a man standing next to a van as he calls Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne and the Biden administration ‘ignorant and out of touch’ for supporting “expensive” electric vehicles with batteries currently made in China.

In competitive Nevada, GOP Senate candidate Adam Laxalt mocks Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D-Nev.) support for his party’s sweeping climate and health bill, which includes appropriations tax for the purchase of electric vehicles. Laxalt warns that Nevada drivers will have to forego charging their electric vehicles in extreme heat to avoid overloading the power grid.

The issue has also become a flashpoint in gubernatorial races in states such as Michigan, Minnesota and California, where Democratic incumbents have championed their support for a rapid transition to electric vehicles – California has The goal is for all new vehicles to be electric or rechargeable. hybrid by 2035 – and grappling with questions about how to pay for charging stations and road improvements as gasoline tax revenues begin to dwindle.

An employee works in the X3, X45 assembly hall of the BMW plant in Spartanburg

An employee works in the X3, X45 assembly hall at the BMW Spartanburg plant in Greer, South Carolina (Sean Rayford/Associated Press)

Even with higher gas prices, the inexorable march toward an all-electric future faces challenges, none of which will be resolved until the midterm elections that will decide control of a tightly divided Congress.

Hampered by supply chain shortages and manufacturing that currently relies on battery parts made primarily in China, electric vehicles are in the luxury car price bracket and remain out of reach for most U.S. households. . This has led Republicans to hit harder on prices – former President Donald Trump frequently says electric vehicles will wipe out America’s auto industry – and Democrats talk about recent drops in gas prices and fuel prices. jobs created by electric vehicles and other clean energies. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is promising a program to increase oil drilling in the United States and roll back Biden’s Climate and Health Act if his party regains the chamber.

As president, Biden racked up victories in Congress, including sending states $7.5 billion to build a national highway system of up to 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. The Democrats’ Climate and Health Act also extends tax credits of up to $7,500 starting next year to consumers who purchase electric vehicles.

Jim Manley

Jim Manley, Democratic strategist

AutoTrader analyst Michelle Krebs said electric vehicles were a tough sell during the campaign because they remain a distant future for most Americans. Unlike stimulus checks in 2020, the electric vehicle tax credits in the Democrats’ Climate and Health Act are still being settled and may ultimately leave few Americans eligible. Currently, electric vehicles represent about 5% of new vehicle sales in the United States.

“Not everyone sees EV charging stations in their neighborhood right now, so that’s having an impact,” she said.

In an interview, White House infrastructure adviser Mitch Landrieu said the high price of electric vehicles — including up to $400,000 for an electric school bus — is “a legitimate criticism,” but added “The more we make, the cheaper they cost. to get.”

General Motors, Ford, Toyota and other automakers have pledged to dramatically increase production of electric vehicles, he said, and in doing so, electric vehicles “will become more affordable”. GM, for example, plans to start selling a Chevrolet compact electric SUV next year with a starting price of around $30,000.

Gregory Barry, 45, a Republican father of two in Audubon, Pennsylvania, says he’s open to electric vehicles once they become more affordable and take less time to charge, but says that’s a mistake for the United States to ignore oil and other energy sources in the meantime.

Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman hold their first and only debate

Republican Mehmet Oz, right, is seen live on a monitor next to a poster of Democrat John Fetterman, left, as the two U.S. Senate candidates hold their first and only debate, at studio WHTM-TV/ ABC 27 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Tom Gralish/Associated Press)

Dissatisfied with GOP Senate nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz on other issues, Barry said he had ruled out voting for Democrat John Fetterman due to his seemingly conflicting positions on fracking and would vote probably for a third-party candidate.

Meg Cheyfitz, a 67-year-old self-proclaimed progressive in Columbus, Ohio, worries about climate change and thinks the government isn’t doing enough to tackle the problem. But she has no plans to buy an electric vehicle, saying she and her husband cannot easily install a charger at home as they park their cars on the street. Cheyfitz also thinks electric vehicles remain a relatively unknown technology with potentially mixed effects on the environment.

“Electric vehicle tax credits aren’t enough,” said Cheyfitz, who voted for Democrats in early voting but says she won’t support Biden if he runs in 2024. “I don’t not really see them taking any meaningful action at all on the climate.

Environmental groups reject the idea that the climate change issue was lost in the midterm elections, citing recent White House announcements highlighting $1 billion in private sector investment in manufacturing National Electric Vehicle Battery Fund as well as $1 billion in federal electric school spending. the buses. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen hailed a new “battery belt” in the Midwest, and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Washington state to promote the purchase of 2,500 “clean” school buses in under a new federal program.

Michelle Krebs

Not everyone currently sees electric vehicle charging stations in their neighborhood, which has an impact.

Michelle Krebs, AutoTrader Analyst

In some states, support for electric vehicles is bipartisan. Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has embraced large investments from Hyundai and Rivian to build electric vehicle factories in his state as part of his re-election fight against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock airs an ad in his race against Republican Herschel Walker that features the incumbent riding an electric school bus. “Get on the bus, the bus of the future,” says Warnock, touting the thousands of jobs at a Georgia company that makes electric school buses.

In Ohio, Republican Senate candidate JD Vance opposes a $3.5 billion joint venture battery plant planned by Honda, amid a flurry of battery assembly plant announcements. batteries and electric vehicles in the United States aimed at boosting the national supply chain. Democrat Tim Ryan’s campaign is slamming Vance’s opposition as a sign that he “has no idea what’s going on in Ohio when he’s going after our growing electric vehicle industry.”

Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, said the United States is “at a turning point for the adoption of electric vehicles,” adding that the new climate law “will be a game-changer for climate action”.

“This administration and this (Democratic) Congress have been really successful in fighting the climate, and we need that to continue,” she said.

— AP Polling Director Emily Swanson and AP writer Jill Colvin in Washington and automotive writer Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

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Jessica C. Bell