Joe Manchin, a Senator from West Virginia and anthropomorphic wet blanket, has once again come out in opposition to a favored Democratic policy that would help people. In this case, Manchin said he is opposed to a provision in the Build Back Better agenda that would give an extra $4,500 in tax credits to electric vehicles built by union labor in the U.S. This credit would be on top of the expanded $7,500 in credits available to any electric vehicle.
Like all of his other positions regarding the Build Back Better agenda, Manchin claims his opposition is due to some broad concern about government interference in the free market economy. “We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” Manchin said, as if it is outside a company’s control whether they oppose unionization efforts at their facilities that have proven to raise the living standards of people who work there.
While this has the thinnest veneer of a noble stand, the context in which Manchin made these remarks illustrates just how easily that veneer is washed away to reveal the naked self-interest of a man who drives a Maserati.
Manchin trashed the union-made EV incentives idea at an event held by Toyota. Many Americans associate Toyota with environmental friendliness because of the Prius, but that’s an unfortunately outdated assumption. In recent years, Toyota has supported the Trump administration’s rollback on fuel economy and also opposes nearly every provision that would speed up EV adoption. It does this perhaps because Toyota is woefully behind on EV development, having sunk years and billions of dollars into hydrogen fuel cell research and development. Basically, Toyota bet big on the wrong technology, and that bet is looking very bad right now. So its main strategy is to slow EV adoption until it can, perhaps, catch up, or somehow make fuel cells work. It also does not employ any union labor in the U.S., making the union-made EV incentives a double whammy. While several automakers including Honda and Tesla also oppose the proposed union-made EV incentives, Toyota has been the most vocal.
The common link here is that Toyota has a footprint in West Virginia, Manchin’s home state, mainly through a factory that makes engines and transmissions. A 2016 study by the Center for Automotive Research, an industry-funded non-profit, found that in 2015 “one out of every 150 workers in West Virginia was employed as a result of Toyota manufacturing, sales, logistics or support operations,” according to a press release Toyota put out about the study. It is not clear who funded this study specifically, but the authors did “thank Toyota Motor North America, Inc. for the opportunity to carry out this research.” Another way to accurately state Toyota’s footprint is that it employs 3,800 people in manufacturing jobs in the state, or about half a percent of the state’s 790,000-strong civilian labor force. Or, Toyota’s manufacturing footprint in West Virginia represents a literal rounding error on the state’s employment numbers.
Nevertheless, perception is sometimes more important than reality, especially when politics is concerned. And the upshot is Toyota thinks it is very important to West Virginia. It also thinks tax incentives for union-made EVs would be bad for Toyota. And, due to the 50/50 split in the Senate, in order for those tax incentives to get enacted, the senator from West Virginia would have to vote for them.
As for the “tax dollars picking winners and losers” remark by Manchin, it’s a moot point from Toyota’s perspective for the time being. They do not sell an electric vehicle in the United States as most people understand the concept. Technically, Toyota sells one EV, the Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell EV that is only available in California where there are hydrogen filling stations. According to the website Good Car Bad Car, Toyota sells a couple hundred of these bad boys a year. Toyota does hope to sell a normal battery electric EV, the BZ4X, starting next year, but it will come with that dumb steering yoke instead of a regular wheel the company blatantly ripped off from Tesla.
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