Joe Biden Highlights Tesla As “Our Nation’s Largest Electric Vehicle Manufacturer” (Again)

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The quick news of the past week with regard to US President Joe Biden and global EV leader Tesla is that Biden has stated that Tesla is “our nation’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer” — just as he did a month ago in a separate speech about US manufacturing. Why is this a big deal? By itself, it’s not a big deal, but in the context of how Tesla fans have been responding to Biden’s speeches on the electric vehicle revolution, it’s a hugely significant story. Read on.

Joe Biden is a pro-labor, pro-union, pro-working class politician. He has been for decades. This support for the working class has long been one of the reasons he rose so high in politics and is one of the only people in history to have been elected both president and vice president of the United States.

Despite being a Democrat focused on manufacturing jobs, climate action, and strong support for cleantech, though, he has had an odd relationship with Tesla. I believe that it largely stems from a big narrative from several years ago. I’ve covered Tesla since 2012. In fact, our coverage of Tesla here on CleanTechnica has been some of the most abundant and well received Tesla coverage on the planet. Elon Musk himself has liked or retweeted hundreds of our stories. I’ve spoken to him a few times and believe that I’ve understood and communicated his core aims, the reality of Tesla, and Tesla’s place in the industry quite well over this past decade. However, the union story from a handful of years ago has been one of the toughest for me to understand — or have faith that I understand accurately. In fact, it’s one of the only big Tesla stories I’ve never felt confident I have the full picture on, and I can’t think of anything comparable in Tesla world. I won’t go into detail on it, since that’s not the aim here, but I’m highlighting all of this because I think it’s important to understand that this is one of those areas where people can have vastly different opinions and ideas about Tesla and I honestly cannot say that one of them is more accurate than the other.

The short story is: Some years ago, at Tesla’s Fremont factory, its only vehicle factory at the time, there was a push to unionize the workers. I think it’s safe to assume that it was largely organized by the UAW (United Auto Workers union), which has a long history of both political influence and outright corruption at the top of the ladder. Heck, less than one year ago, the person who had been named President of the UAW in 2018 was sentenced to 28 months in prison for such corruption. He’s the second UAW president to be sentenced to prison for corruption, and is one of 15 members of the UAW charged by US prosecutors. Elon Musk himself got a slap on the wrist from the judicial system after it was determined a 2018 tweet was considered union busting. While there were efforts underway to unionize Tesla’s workforce, Musk spoke out against it, arguing that Tesla workers were better off as they were and that the UAW was corruptly trying to force the change and perhaps even help their core members (GM, Ford) by crippling Tesla and perhaps helping it to die a premature death.

A number of investigative reports came out back around that time, particularly from Reveal and the Guardian. They focused on reported worker safety concerns and other problems in the Fremont factory. Reading those reports, it is easy to conclude that Tesla had all kinds of problems in how it managed its manufacturing workforce. Based on those reports, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that many people — especially pro-working-class people on the left — think horrible things about Tesla. Additionally, while Tesla pushed back on those investigations and said they didn’t represent the company or its focus on safety at all, I think there were a number of safety and worker improvements that Tesla implemented in response — or partly in response — to these attacks on the morality of the company’s management. I toured Tesla factories in 2019, and aside from seeing ample evidence of serious concern for worker safety and all sorts of precautions, the image I got from some Tesla staff was that they thought the investigative smears were laughable and ridiculous — not at all representative of the company. But that doesn’t change that these reports have had a real effect on what millions of people think of the company and its regard for its workforce. Elon Musk has pointed out on a number of occasions that Tesla worker safety is above average in the industry and that it aims to be far and away the safest auto manufacturer in the world. Though, don’t expect most of his critics to have seen those tweets or to believe the claims and goals.

There’s much more to say on that topic, but let’s get back to Joe Biden. Without a doubt, Biden heard the worst things possible about Tesla. Not only does he have a huge network of pro-labor, pro-working class staff and professional connections — many of whom must genuinely think Tesla treats its workers horribly — but he’s also long been allies with the UAW and other unions. Some see that as pure corruption, but I think that’s as misguided as seeing Elon Musk as a greedy capitalist who doesn’t care about his companies’ workers. I think it’s evident that Biden has long been allies with unions because he sees them as protecting the interests of the working class — as they often do. Whatever the reasons for the alliance, though, it is certainly obvious that the UAW is in Biden’s ear and gets its biases and talking points prominently in front of Biden. It’s also noteworthy that Musk has made some extreme right-wing statements on Twitter in recent years, has seemingly never been friendly toward Biden (making jokes about his age, for example), and did nothing to fight against Trump’s existential threats to US democracy but has routinely complained about US regulators trying to protect human health and safety. With such a history, why would Biden be very prone to trust or listen to Elon Musk?

All of that is the preface for what has been one of the main topics of focus for Tesla fans in the past year: that Biden doesn’t give enough credit to Elon Musk and Tesla for their EV leadership. Without a doubt, the exclusion of Tesla in various EV events and statements has been obvious and odd. I believe that the above — vastly simplified as it is — explains why, but that also doesn’t mean that it’s been a sensible approach. Aside from the fact that Tesla is the global leader in EV production, EV sales, and inspiring people to believe in an EV future, it’s also a very poor move politically to alienate so many hardcore Tesla/Elon fans — people who may well have voted for Democrats or may be open to doing so but who have much stronger allegiances to Elon than to any other politician. I am a bit shocked that none of Biden’s top advisors seemed to see the political risk of ignoring Tesla too much. As I’ve said since the issue arose, it hurts Biden much more than it hurts Tesla or Musk for Biden to not state the obvious — that Tesla is far and away the USA’s and the world’s EV leader.

Well, it seems that the message was finally relayed and the Biden team has changed course. While still talking up GM’s and Ford’s shift toward EVs, Biden now routinely highlights Tesla as “our nation’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer.” He could still say more to get the Tesla fan community onboard his train and to acknowledge that Tesla has been a leader in revitalizing American manufacturing, in pulling the world forward on electrification of transportation, and focusing on helping humanity. But, hey, at least we’re seeing that month after month, pro-Tesla talking points are getting delivered. In fact, if you compare Biden’s Made in America speech from last week with his comments at the White House last month, there are nearly identical. See the following two clips:

Expect to hear President Biden call Tesla the USA’s top electric vehicle manufacturer again, and again, and again, in the future.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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