EV tax credits in Bidens Build Back Better Act will help sell more cars than new chargers in infrastructure bill – CNBC

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the General Motors Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Detroit.

Evan Vucci | AP

DETROIT – Now that President Joe Biden‘s $1 trillion infrastructure bill is law, Democrats are setting their sights on his Build Back Better Act to further advance the administration’s electric vehicle agenda.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $7.5 billion to jump start Biden’s goal of having 500,000 EV charges nationwide by 2030. The $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, which was passed Friday by the U.S. House, includes tax incentives of up to $12,500 per vehicle to spur consumer demand in electric vehicles.

“The infrastructure bill the President signed this week is a critical step in investing in our future,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said during an event to celebrate GMC Hummer EV production with Biden in Detroit. “Now we’re focused on the next step.”

The event at General Motor’s Factory Zero was largely a parade of Michigan Democrats touting Build Back Better and using the forthcoming Hummer production as a soapbox to tout union-made vehicles.

“This infrastructure law with my Build Back Better plan, we’re going to kickstart new batteries, materials and parts production and recycling, boosting the manufacturing of clean vehicles with new loans and new tax credits,” Biden said during the event. “Creating new purchasing incentives for consumers to buy American-made, union-made clean vehicles like the electric Hummer.”

The $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill will now go to the Senate, where it is likely to be revised in the coming weeks. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he aims to have the chamber pass the bill before Christmas. The House will need to vote on it again if the bill is altered.

Controversial incentives

The proposed EV incentive under Build Back Better includes a current $7,500 tax credit to purchase a plug-in electric vehicle as well as $500 if the vehicle’s battery is made in the U.S. It also includes a controversial $4,500 tax credit if the vehicle is assembled domestically with union labor, which has drawn heavy criticism from non-Detroit automakers whose American workers aren’t organized.

Toyota Motor has called the union-made incentive “blatantly biased” and “wrong.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk also has heavily criticized the incentive and Biden for his support of unions such as the United Auto Workers union that represents plant workers of the Detroit automakers.

The tax credits supporting advanced technologies that generally benefit wealthier Americans has always been controversial, but stipulating that a portion of the $12,500 go to union-made EVs escalated the partisan tension. Biden has been unapologetic about his support of unions.

“We’ve got to focus on what made the nation great. I have no problem with Wall Street bankers and others,” Biden said Wednesday. “But they didn’t build America. The middle-class built America and unions built the middle class.”

Under the bill, individual taxpayers reporting adjusted gross incomes of $250,000 or $500,000 for joint filers to get the new EV tax credit. It also would limit the EV credit to cars priced at no more than $55,000 and trucks and SUVs up to $80,000.

‘More critical bill’

BofA Global Research analyst John Murphy described the infrastructure package as “only modestly supportive” of the auto industry’s move toward EVs. He said the $12,500 in tax credits to buy an EV is more crucial to increase adoption.

“As noted, the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda is the more critical bill determining regulatory support for the electrification revolution in the U.S.,” Murphy wrote in an investor note last week.

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures after driving a Hummer EV during a tour at the General Motors ‘Factory ZERO’ electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan, November 17, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Transportation officials last week touted the Build Back Better as a key part of Biden’s plan along with the new infrastructure package to help achieve the president’s EV sales goal. He wants half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 to be electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that include EV batteries and traditional internal combustion engines.

Goldman Sachs analyst Mark Delany believes such incentives for EVs could make the total cost of buying a vehicle “more compelling and would broadly benefit” automakers by making their products more affordable to consumers.

‘Ambitious’ goal

The infrastructure package, in the meantime, only covers a portion of the funds needed to build out a truly nationwide charging network.

The $7.5 billion is only about 15% of the $50 billion consulting firm AlixPartners has forecast will be needed to reach Biden’s goal of a nationwide network of 500,000 chargers by 2030.

Building that will take a multitude of public and private sector investments, experts say. They characterize the infrastructure package as a positive step in the right direction.

“It’s not all going to come from government, for sure,” said Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners. “It’s presumably going to come more from companies putting utilities, automakers, charging companies, convenience stores, gas stations putting chargers in … The fact there’s any investment in it is a good thing.”

Before Biden signed the infrastructure package, U.S. Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg said the 500,000 charger goal remains “ambitious.”

“We stand by our goal. Our goal is to get to 500,000 EV chargers by 2030. That is obviously going to take strong partnerships at the state and local level and with private providers as well,” she told reporters during a call last week. “It’s an ambitious goal, but I think we’re going t have a plan to get there, also working with our partners at the Department of Energy.”

The DOT and DOE have established a joint program office under the infrastructure bill on how to use the funds, according to Christopher Coes, principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy.

DOT officials declined to estimate how many EV chargers they plan to install with the $7.5 billion under the infrastructure bill. The devices, based on their speed of charging, can cost $120,00 to $260,000 for Level 3 “fast chargers” to be installed, according to AlixPartners.

“The goals of our program are to figure out how do we build the market? How do ensure that we are investing in places that aren’t the first places private sector investors are going to go to,” he said, citing inner cities, multifamily locations and along interstate highways.

– CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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