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Chinese EVs Are Becoming a Political Issue in the US

Chinese EVs Are Becoming a Political Issue in the US

There’s an interesting divide taking place in the U.S. when it comes to Chinese-made electric vehicles. It’s worth pointing out from the outset that China has a thriving auto industry and — unlike the U.S. — those companies have been producing a wide range of EVs at different price points. Ask most U.S. auto buyers to name a Chinese automaker and you’re likely to get a few blank stares. Ask others in the know — incuding Tesla’s Elon Musk — and they’ll be much more familiar with that sector, with a vested interest in seeing that it never gets a foothold here.

The latest prominent figure to take a firm stand against China selling its EVs in the U.S. is Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. In the case of Brown, there’s an element of both protectonism and national security concerns in his argument. Reuters reports (via Autoblog) that he’s called for a permanent ban on the sale of EVs from Chinese automakers in the United States. In a letter to President Biden, Brown described Chinese electric vehicles as “an existential threat” to the nation’s auto industry.

“Ohio knows all too well how China illegally subsidizes its companies, putting our workers out of jobs and undermining entire industries, from steel to solar manufacturing. We cannot allow China to bring its government-backed cheating to the American auto industry,” Brown wrote. “The U.S. must ban Chinese electric vehicles now, and stop a flood of Chinese government-subsidized cars that threaten Ohio auto jobs, and our national and economic security.”

In the letter, Brown also called for the president to “take bold, aggressive action and to permanently ban EVs produced by Chinese companies or whatever subsidiaries they establish to conceal their origins.”

There are some echoes here of the movement in the 1980s to curb the import of Japanese vehicles into the U.S. — though the current debate has the added wrinkle of national security concerns in the mix. As Reuters notes in their analysis of Brown’s letter, some form of regulation of Chinese electric vehicles — whether in the form of higher tariffs or an outright ban — has bipartisan support.

That said, it’s worth mentioning that some of the same concerns over charging infrastructure that American auto buyers have are shared by their Chinese counterparts. Whether or not Brown’s proposal will succeed is just one factor relative to the wider adoption of EVs in the United States, but the data out of China suggests a more complicated reality on the ground — and some bigger holistic questions that auto industries around the globe will need to answer.