The Department of Energy (DOE) is making $15.5 billion available to upgrade existing automotive plants for electric vehicles (EVs).

The Biden administration announced a $15.5 billion initiative aimed at transforming existing gasoline vehicle manufacturing plants into facilities dedicated to producing electric cars and trucks. This funding, provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), includes $2 billion in grants from the Inflation Reduction Act to convert domestic manufacturing facilities and enhance the production of hybrid, battery-powered, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Additionally, the DOE plans to allocate up to $10 billion to support conversion projects through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program. Furthermore, a separate $3.5 billion may be allocated to expand domestic battery manufacturing as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

This announcement comes at a pivotal moment for the U.S. auto industry, with growing concerns among workers about the potential job losses associated with the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and the shift away from traditional manufacturing hubs. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm emphasized the administration’s commitment to ensuring a smooth transition for workers and communities during this EV transition.

The DOE’s funding initiative arrives shortly after the United Auto Workers (UAW), the largest auto union in the nation, voted in favor of authorizing a potential strike against major automakers, including General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Stellantis. The union is advocating for wage increases, reinstating cost-of-living adjustments, and a return to pension plans. If an agreement is not reached by September 14, a strike could occur. The shift to EVs has been a factor in these automakers’ previous decisions to cut jobs, offer buyouts, and idle manufacturing plants in the industrial Midwest.

Simultaneously, Detroit automakers and their partners are establishing new factories in various states to manufacture EVs, process lithium, build batteries, and recycle EV materials. Tax incentives provided under the Inflation Reduction Act and “right-to-work” policies in some Southern states have contributed to this growth but have also raised concerns about weakening union influence.

Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, has emphasized the importance of maintaining union representation at new EV and battery plants. While Fain welcomed the DOE’s new grants and loans, he stressed the need to protect jobs and communities in peril, particularly in facilities like those in Belvidere, Illinois; Lordstown, Ohio; and Romeo, Michigan.

Energy Secretary Granholm acknowledged that it’s uncertain how the newly announced funding will affect the ongoing negotiations between the UAW and Detroit automakers. However, she underscored the administration’s commitment to financing projects in longstanding auto manufacturing communities, promoting collective bargaining agreements, and creating high-paying, sustainable jobs as part of their clean energy investment efforts.

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