Tesla Inc. may be the most talked about automaker in America, but President Biden doesn’t want to talk about it.
In the first year of the Biden administration, Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, have become hard to ignore. A skyrocketing stock price has made Tesla the world’s most valuable automaker, Musk is the richest person in the world whose tweets can influence the stock market, and Tesla continues to make far more electric vehicles than anyone else.
Meanwhile, Biden is a staunchly pro-EV president pushing legislation to make technology commonplace. He encourages any movement towards electrification by American automakers – as long as the manufacturer in question is a traditional manufacturer like Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co.
But Tesla? He and his lieutenants hardly ever pronounce his name.
The omission has now sparked a mini-movement – led by Musk – to force Biden to recognize Tesla, and created a bizarre standoff between Biden and some of the most avid electric vehicle drivers.
While there are plenty of reasons Biden and Musk might disagree, the White House snub probably comes down to one thing, analysts say.
“I think the main reason has to do with the fiercely anti-union stance of Tesla and Musk,” said Sam Abuelsamid, electric mobility analyst for consultancy firm Guidehouse Insights.
Code of silence
A review of public comments from Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Press Secretary Jen Psaki, and two cabinet secretaries whose portfolios overlap with Tesla – Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttegieg – reveals that the name of the country’s leading electric vehicle maker has been invoked. only a handful of times during White House briefings and agency press conferences and events.
The omission is particularly apparent in the White House briefing room, where Psaki has been repeatedly asked about the many ways Tesla and Musk intersect with the headlines of the day, from tax policy to automated transportation.
Psaki mentioned the company name three times during briefings, twice as part of a Tesla vehicle crash investigation. Psaki usually answers questions about Tesla or Musk without invoking the subject of the questioner’s sentence.
“I have no reaction to his comments,” Psaki said when asked about Musk’s comment on the cryptocurrency in September. “They don’t impact our policy, I would say. I guess that’s my reaction.”
In contrast, officials in the Biden administration directly praised Ford and GM’s electrification plans. In May, ahead of a visit from Biden to Ford, Psaki said, “We can’t wait to visit Ford Motor Co. and see a preview of the F-150 Lightning and the exciting technologies that make it possible.” In April, Granholm – herself a former governor of Michigan, where the two companies are based – told a White House press briefing in April that “General Motors says its entire fleet is going to be electrified.”
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Tesla’s zippered lip contrasts with Biden’s attention to mainstream American automakers and their nascent efforts to build electric vehicles.
In August, the same day Biden signed an executive order that half of America’s new passenger vehicles be electric by 2030, he hosted a White House auto summit attended by CEOs of GM and Ford. and the North American COO. of Stellantis NV, the parent company of Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler. Tesla was not invited.
In May, Biden toured Ford’s electric automobile plant under construction in Dearborn, Michigan. This month, he made a similar call to GM’s Zero plant in Detroit.
In both cases, he tested and praised the companies’ prototypes of electric vehicles, including the Ford F-150 Lightning (“That sucker is fast!”) And the GMC Hummer (“one hell of a vehicle”).
In contrast, Biden, who often describes himself as an “auto guy” and whose father ran car dealerships that sold Fords, GMs and Chryslers, did not visit the Tesla plant in California or his vast news. auto plant under construction in Texas. If as president he sat or drove a Tesla, he didn’t mention it.
Tesla’s henchmen have resented this omission since Biden took office. But their anger reached a new level after November 15, when Biden spoke at the opening of GM’s new electric vehicle plant in Detroit and addressed GM CEO Mary Barra.
“I remember your dramatic announcement that by 2035 GM would be 100% electric.… You changed the whole story, Mary,” Biden said. “You electrified the entire auto industry. I’m serious.”
This comment elicited some sad chuckles in the Tesla Universe. On Twitter, company fans pointed out that if one company is responsible for electrifying the auto industry, it was Tesla, which produced the world’s first electric sports car, the Roadster, in 2008. Tesla’s subsequent success in manufacturing and marketing electric vehicles ultimately pushed GM to follow suit.
Tesla received a key loan of $ 456 million from the DOE in 2010 under the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president. Tesla’s sales in the United States were greased by the federal tax credit of $ 7,500 per car, which represents $ 1.5 billion in federal aid.
Soon Musk capitalized on the comment with his own tweet:
“Let’s see if we can get them to say the word ‘Tesla’!” Musk wrote.
And Musk’s mom, model and celebrity Maye Musk also crammed in, Tweeter “Biden’s speech was written 20 years ago, just before GM killed the electric car. His speechwriter uploaded the wrong file.
Just the union factor?
Biden has been called the most pro-union president in almost a century (Energy wire, The 17th of March).
In the automotive world, the president’s union agenda is part of a proposal in the “Build Back Better Act”, currently under consideration in the Senate, to offer a subsidy of $ 4,500 to electric vehicles assembled by trade unions (Energy wire, September 30).
This subsidy was strongly criticized by Elon Musk, whose customers would not be eligible for this tax credit because Tesla’s workforce is not unionized. It has also been criticized by Republican governors, Canadian officials and Toyota Motor Corp., which ran an ad in The New York Times and other newspapers (Energy wire, November 3).
On Twitter, Musk hinted that Biden was in the pocket of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which represents employees of Ford and GM. Tesla and Musk have been reprimanded by the National Labor Relations Board for pushing employees to reject unions.
One of the administration’s sharpest non-comments about Tesla came when Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, was asked why Tesla had not been invited to the president’s auto summit.
“Well, these are the United Auto Workers’ three biggest employers,” she said, “so I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.”
Biden’s allies in the labor movement are quick to call Tesla as a target for Biden’s policies.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that Biden isn’t talking about Tesla,” said Jason Walsh, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance. This group is made up of both environmental and labor groups, but does not include the UAW.
“He’s a president on the workers’ side,” Walsh continued. “He rightly focused ‘Build Back Better’ on creating and sustaining well-paying jobs in safe factories where workers have a say in the work, which is in effect the opposite of Tesla.”
However, there are plenty of other reasons for the president not to embrace Tesla and his prominent CEO, observers say.
Biden is lobbying Congress to consider taxing billionaires more. Musk is a billionaire who says the government will only waste the revenue. Biden has made COVID-19 precautions a cornerstone of his presidency; Musk called them fascists.
Abuelsamid, the auto analyst, pointed out that there are also regulatory reasons for Biden not to slap Musk in the face. Tesla is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for reassuring drivers that vehicles’ autopilot functionality is safe.
“From a broader political perspective, it has become quite clear that Elon Musk is quite right-wing in his personal political views,” Abuelsamid said.
“Or if he does not call himself right,” he added, “he is a libertarian, and his opinions appeal to Republicans much more than to Democrats”.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Biden’s Tesla defectors
One question hanging over the White House’s silence is whether the president will pay the political price, given criticism from Tesla fans, who are among the biggest supporters of the EV lifestyle.
“No one deserves more credit than Tesla, and President Biden and the entire US administration have ignored Tesla, looked at all the other companies, and it’s just frustrating,” said Galileo Russell, technical commentator on YouTube.
But analysts have said alienating some of Musk’s followers might be worth building loyalty elsewhere.
“I don’t think it’s a terrible surprise for a car guy and union activist like Biden to focus on the Big Three,” said Susan Demas, editor of Michigan Advance, a progressive media outlet, speaking. of Midwestern tradition. automotive industry players. “These are union jobs, these are the heart of his grassroots. That’s probably why he insists so much on their work.
“Elon Musk’s base, so to speak, even though he’s not a politician, is in the tech-bro philosophy, and these people aren’t stuck in places like Lansing, Michigan or Madison, Wisconsin.” , said Demas.
And the fact that Fords and Chevrolets are so much more common on those Midwestern roads than Tesla means there is little price to pay for being a mom.
“If there was more presence in the so-called rust belt,” said Demas, “it would be harder to ignore.”