Amid the exuberance during BMW’s recent announcement of $1.7 billion investments in two Upstate projects, it was Sen. Lindsey Graham who, while full of praise for the automaker, said BMW couldn’t do it alone .
Electrifying the US auto fleet is an undertaking too big for a single company and too big even for the corporate sector alone, he said.
“This vision announced here today will only become a reality if we earn it, if we face the future, if we realize that we cannot get there on our own,” said Graham, one of the speakers at the announcement from BMW last month. The host was BMW Group CEO Oliver Zipse from Munich. “That government and business must be partners. You cannot do this, Mr. Chairman, without the help of state, local and federal officials. So I want to promise you and all of your employees this: South Carolina will be there for BMW as you transform your business. What you got (in government support) for the last 30 years, you will get for the next 300 years.”
Graham called BMW’s plans to invest $1 billion in an expansion of its Greer plant and another $700 million in a new battery plant in Woodruff one of the “most momentous announcements in South Carolina history, not just because of the… Money, but because they do Write the (book) on vehicle electrification in the United States, South Carolina will be in the first chapter.
He said the plans put policy leaders at the local, state and federal levels at the center of the biggest shift in industrial policy in modern times, compared to the switch from horse and carriage to the automobile. The Republican pointed out that while it has saved space for gas- and diesel-powered engines, it is business, not government, that has made the transition to electric vehicles a reality.
“BMW will be a global leader in vehicle electrification, not just in South Carolina, with the understanding that choice will continue to be important,” said Graham.
Because of what it takes to produce electricity and an electric battery, the senator said the government’s role must be big.
“I don’t know who the budget chair will be, but when I’m the budget chair, we’re going to have a hearing about what it means for America for an automaker like BMW to go down the electric vehicle path,” Graham said. “Where do the battery parts come from? Where do the raw materials come from. Here’s the truth; We will never be able to manufacture the battery in America without having materials from outside the country. So with these partnerships, batteries are becoming the new oil. How do you charge the car? There’s a lot of money in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill I voted for to speed up charging stations. How do you build a battery that lasts longer and further? Where do you get the materials? How does the raw material become a real battery that goes into the car? What will happen to the oil industry in 40 years?”
The role of utilities and gas stations will change, Graham said.
“The impending disruption of an electrified fleet means that utility companies need to change the way they do business. What do you connect the car to? How do you double generation and make it less carbon? One thing leads to another,” said Graham. “We are looking for small modular reactors to be developed in South Carolina to provide clean energy, an energy source with zero nuclear emissions. If we don’t have an all-encompassing approach to power generation, you can’t get there from here. Fossil fuels will be with us for many decades to come and we need to find as much as we can so we don’t depend on people over there who don’t really like us. So we have to do many things at the same time. We need a plan to make it work.”
Graham promised Zipse that he and state-elected leaders would be BMW’s partners on the road to an electric vehicle fleet of American cars. He said the state would become the Detroit of vehicle batteries.
“The vision you have outlined today is bold, exciting and transformative. And all those adjectives — none of them apply to Congress,” he said. “So we have to be bold, we have to be transformative, we have to be nimble. Republicans and Democrats should agree on this: we should be the world leader in vehicle electrification; we should not follow.”
Ross Norton can be reached at 864-720-1222.