June 23, 2024

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Can America’s south-east unseat Detroit as ‘Motown’ of the EV age?

2 min read

The battle for America’s automotive future is now under way in places like a cotton farm in the small South Carolina town of Florence, where, every day, yellow and red excavators are digging up enough dirt and stone to bury an entire football field under 5ft of earth.

Last December, Envision AESC, a Japanese manufacturer, announced it would invest $810mn to assemble lithium-ion battery cells in Florence, a railroad hub that was once dominated by the state’s agriculture industry. The batteries will be used in BMW’s electric vehicle plant, 160 miles up the road in Spartanburg.

“We’re taking fields and turning them into manufacturing,” says Gregg Robinson, head of Florence County’s Economic Development Partnership. A shiny silver shovel from the plant’s groundbreaking ceremony stands like a trophy in his office. “This is a generational change.”

Projects like the one in Florence now dot the US’s south-east, which has increasingly become the region of choice for foreign auto and battery manufacturers looking to establish a foothold in the fast-growing American electric vehicle market.

This bleeding of the American auto industry out of its traditional home in Detroit has been under way for decades, with European and Japanese manufacturers helping lead the shift. In addition to BMW’s choice of Spartanburg, Mercedes opened its biggest North American plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Toyota chose Georgetown, Kentucky.

But the shift has gone into overdrive in recent years as the world’s largest automakers — and a handful of smaller rivals — have gone on a battery and EV building boom across the Deep South. The vast tax credits and green subsidies in the Biden administration’s signature Inflation Reduction Act have helped to fuel the trend.

Since 2010, more than $70bn has been invested in EV and battery manufacturing in the region, compared with $51bn in the Midwest. Michigan still leads with nearly $24bn, according to the EV Jobs Hub, but…

2023-10-26 00:00:43

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