Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) is among the prominent voices in Congress advocating for a smooth transition to electric vehicles. Dingell, who was first elected in 2015, represents suburban Detroit, home to a large swath of the American car industry and the labor force that builds those vehicles.
I spoke with Dingell, a former GM executive who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, about the pressing issues facing legislators as the country races to make EVs dominant.
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You’ve been supportive of laws that have boosted EV investment in this country. Do you think that our government should have moved faster with these kinds of laws?
It’s a complicated subject. There’s a notice of proposed rulemaking now that would require two-thirds of the vehicles sold in this country be electric vehicles by [2030 or 2032]. Several things have to happen before that’s realistic. I don’t think the foundation is in place.
California, which has been the state that has been the most aggressive in trying to get EVs into their vehicle mix, does not have the charging stations that they need. The ones that they have are not being maintained. What we’re trying to do at the policy level is to give support for the states to build out private-public partnerships for those charging stations, and then they’re going to have to be maintained.
“Several things have to happen before that’s realistic. I don’t think the foundation is in place.”
What we’re investing money in, in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act, is to upgrade the power grid as well. That’s an important foundational issue. We’re going to have to become even more aggressive in working with the utility companies.
What can we do to move faster now? These things often don’t move fast.
We’ve got to make these vehicles more affordable. Look, my leases were up on both of my vehicles. In DC, I live in a townhouse. They’re not allowed to have charging stations there. The United States Capitol doesn’t have charging stations. I don’t have the charging availability with the time restraints at my hand. That’s an issue. Do you know how many homes don’t have garages in this country? Fifty percent of the homes in this country don’t have garages. We need to be realistic but keep moving forward.
In what ways are we too dependent on China in the electrical vehicle space now?
Unfortunately, China is starting to build these vehicles. They are the source of probably 80 percent of the minerals that are being used in these batteries. They also own some of the intellectual property. I don’t want to let them get ahead of us, but they probably have a little more know-how. We got to develop that intellectual property here in this country. We put the world on wheels. We are the home of mobility. I am not going to secede our leadership to any other country, let alone China, which [is] one of the reasons we have to be investing in R&D. This is an economic competitive issue, and it’s a national security issue.
“Do you know how many homes don’t have garages in this country?”
What are the stakes between the United States and China in the electrical vehicle race?
We are becoming reliant on China for things not just in the transportation sector but in many areas that we don’t even understand. China is allowed to test their autonomous vehicles on our roads. We are not allowed to go into China and test our vehicles. China’s collecting data right now from those autonomous vehicles about all kinds of things.
Can you help play out the scenario? What if China leads on EV deployment?
We’re going to be exporting our jobs to China. Then they’re going to come back into this country. They’ll sell them at a low price, which is what they do. But then we’re going to be dependent upon them, and they’re going to raise the prices. We’re going to let them take intellectual property that we need in so many different areas. I worked for General Motors for three decades before I came into this job, and we just offshored our supply chain. I told people that Donald Trump was going to become president in 2016 because he understood how the auto workers felt that their jobs had been offshored, that we have become dependent upon a supply chain that’s in other countries and not here. Electric vehicles are an example of a product that we cannot cede our leadership to China on. We have to stay at the forefront of it because transportation is so critical to so many things that we do in this country.
“We’re going to be exporting our jobs to China.”
Let’s talk about Tesla in China. Tesla has benefited by being in China, and Tesla has also helped China’s electric vehicle industry grow.
Tesla is now talking about doing more production out of this country. Tesla doesn’t use union workers. Look, [Elon Musk] developed a good product. He sold many vehicles. I think it was a luxury vehicle that many people could not afford. I think he made electric vehicles more acceptable to many people. I’m just not going to support anybody producing in China. I want to see production here in this country, and I’m going to fight to have products made in this country by American workers and union workers when I can help that succeed.
What do we need to do to invest in public transportation to not make people just solely dependent on owning an automobile as their form of transportation, especially when it comes to equity?
We’re going to be looking at mass transportation more. Autonomous vehicles are going to be one of the ways. I think we need to be looking at rail. We’ve been trying to get high-speed rail just from this area to Chicago for decades. But what is realistic for the heartland? What’s realistic in other places? All options need to be on the table.
“We’re going to be looking at mass transportation more. Autonomous vehicles are going to be one of the ways.”
Do you have the support among your colleagues in Congress?
We’ve got 435 members and probably 435 perspectives. My Republican colleagues, who I respect and work with a great deal just in committee, as we were talking on auto issues before we left for the August break, they don’t like any of this. They do not think we should be moving toward electric vehicles. They don’t think we should be doing mandates, and they have problems, quite frankly, in building out EV or doing public-private partnerships. I have other colleagues that want it today and think it should just get done.
When will we really make this transition to EVs?
I think we’re in it. I don’t know where that end goal is going to be, but I’m not going to stop working at it. Every single day, you get up every day, and you say, “What are the issues? What are the challenges? How do we address it?” And you keep going.