Michigan’s automotive industry shifts toward an electric future

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With Michigan housing several automotive manufacturing plants, the state looks to expand into the world of vehicle electrification. 

“If we want to continue to expand ourselves as a species, we need another way to power and transport ourselves around, a cleaner more sustainable way of doing it, because we’re just going to run out of gas at some point,” said Steve Radosevich, geometric modeler for Rivian. 

General Motors Co. is one of the manufacturers making Michigan a hub for electric vehicle production. The GM factory in Orion Township is  set to become one of the company’s main electric vehicle manufacturers. The plant, which originally produced Chevrolet Malibus and Pontiac G6s, will now build all-electric trucks. 

GM is also shifting its manufacturing in Detroit. The Detroit-Hamtramck plant, nicknamed “Factory Zero,” will construct electric variants of the Hummer, Sierra, Cruise, and Silverado. With a focus on expanding to daily drivers, Radosevich said manufacturers are now making the vehicles that people want rather than cars for a limited market.

Manufacturing is just one side of the electric vehicle push in Michigan. It’s not enough to build more electric vehicles, consumers need to be convinced to make the switch. To incentivize Michiganders to invest in electric vehicles, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put forth several pieces of policy encouraging ownership of electric vehicles.

“In general, if you put in place a $10,000 incentive you are gonna get more people pursuing electric vehicles,” said Kevin Elliot, professor of philosophy at Michigan State University. Elliot, who specializes in research and environmental ethics, said that while environmental decisions should be made on more ethical considerations the market is a powerful factor in influencing the general population.

Michigan isn’t just offering consumers money for maintaining electric vehicles. The state is also receiving federal funding to aid infrastructure development. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will give Michigan $110 million for electric vehicle charging investments according to Tremaine Phillips, a member of the Michigan Public Service Commission. 

“Public policy is essential to help us better organize and plan to be ready for federal investment,” said Phillips. “It’s significant.”

Vehicle manufacturers like GM, Ford Motor Co. and Tesla Inc. are all placing their futures into electric vehicle development. What was once a fad Phillips said, is now a stable trend toward broader vehicle electrification.

With Michigan and vehicle manufacturers on board for the switch to electric vehicles, the final decision is still up to  the consumer. One of the more common concerns pointed out by Dana Mirate, a salesperson at Graff Chevrolet, is the reluctance to switch to charging from gasoline. 

Gillian Cain, an current electric vehicle owner, said, “A big con is that it takes a really long time to charge. If you’re just plugging your car into the wall with the standard charger it can take about a day to get a full charge.”

To compete with the convenience of gas stations, superchargers are in high demand. However, they are in limited supply due to the cost of installation. Mirate said there are only two in Lansing. In total, there are only five superchargers in the Greater Lansing area. 

With superchargers limited and home chargers taking a significant amount of time, consumers remain unsure about transitioning away from gasoline. Phillips explained that Michigan is planning to deploy more chargers to help alleviate the anxiety that hesitant consumers face when switching from familiar gas stations to new charging stations.

“The main issue is to get over this idea that you can’t treat your car like your phone,” said Mirate. “We have no problem charging our phones overnight or running on less than 50%, so the people need to start thinking that way about their car.”

As someone who already made the switch to electric vehicles, Cain said that the lack of quick chargers makes traveling more difficult, especially for long distances. She chooses routes that avoid highways to limit her car’s acceleration and therefore battery usage. When she does have to charge her car, she said that the process feels like hunting down a charging station that is equipped for cars like hers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is another factor restricting Michigan’s electrification process as supply issues plague electric vehicle manufacturing. Microchip shortages and supply chain disruptions have hampered recent sales as electric vehicle inventories dwindle. Mirate said Graff Chevrolet is in such short supply it doesn’t  have any electric vehicles on the lot.

Despite the recent shortages, Justin Bass, a car porter for Pat Milliken Ford, said that, while vehicle electrification has not increased exponentially, it is on an upward trend. “The buzz around electric vehicles has been spreading. More and more people are willing to give it a shot,” Bass said. Specifically, electric vehicles like the gas and electric hybrid Fusion and the all-electric F-150 Lightning truck have become much more popular. 

“These electric vehicle adoption trends are not going backwards,” Phillips said. “They’re only going to increase and increase exponentially. That gives us the signal that we need to prepare.”