Be Careful What You Wish For, Electric Vehicle Edition
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Be Careful What You Wish For, Electric Vehicle Edition

Jul 09, 2023

Nobody could have predicted that one day, red state right-to-work laws would attract electric vehicle manufacturers and help cement decarbonization into public policy.



The law of unintended consequences is hard at work among US states with "right-to-work" laws. Clustered mainly in the conservative Southeast and up through the nation's midsection, right-to-work states have spent decades luring automakers and other manufacturers with a deep pool of cheap, compliant labor. Today, the same labor is attracting electric vehicle stakeholders. That puts red state officials in the awkward position of leading the decarbonization movement, even as they continue to rail against it.

Right-to-work laws are designed to prevent labor unions from organizing, if not eliminate them entirely. Georgia is a case in point. The state was among the first wave of states to adopt anti-union, right-to-work legislation beginning shortly after World War II.

Today, the Georgia Department of Economic Development continues to pitch its anti-union status to the auto industry. In Georgia, only 4.7% of workers in the private sector are unionized, "well below the national average," GDEcD notes in the Automotive section of its website.

GDEcD also devotes considerable attention to attracting electric vehicle stakeholders. "Building on the assets that make the Automotive Industry successful, Georgia is positioned as a hub for the electric transportation industry," GDEcD enthuses in an elaborately detailed section titled, "Electric Mobility Manufacturing."

"Since 2018, 35 EV-related projects have contributed $23 billion in investments in Georgia," GDEcD adds, highlighting Hyundai Motor Group's recent investments. That caught the CleanTechnica eye, too. "The latest clean tech investment to hit the Peach State is a new $4.3 billion joint venture between Hyundai Motor Group and the electric vehicle battery maker LG Energy Solution," we noted.

Electric vehicles are not the only area in which GDEcD is all over electrification. The agency also leads the Georgia Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance, which is dedicated to "support the growth of the entire electric mobility industry and foster innovation in the State of Georgia by creating a business-friendly environment for the industry and promoting favorable public policy."

Despite GDEcD's enthusiasm for electric vehicles, Georgia is among the 25 or Republican-dominated states that pitched a lawsuit last January against new federal Department of Labor rules that support pension fund managers who ascribe to ESG (environment, social, governance) investing principles.

The environment leg of the ESG stool embraces renewable energy, electric vehicles, and other decarbonization technology. On its part, the anti-ESG movement is focused on protecting fossil energy stakeholders from having to compete in a low-carbon economy, and part of its strategy is to stir up public opinion against something called the "woke mob."

Apparently Georgia State Attorney General Christopher M. Carr, who joined the lawsuit on behalf of Georgia, did not get the electric vehicle memo from GDEcD or the Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance. Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also did not get the memo. He signed onto a joint anti-ESG statement with 18 other governors dated March 16, railing against the ESG-friendly rules.

"The proliferation of ESG throughout America is a direct threat to the American economy, individual economic freedom, and our way of life, putting investment decisions in the hands of the woke mob to bypass the ballot box and inject political ideology into investment decisions, corporate governance, and the everyday economy," the letter states.


Against this backdrop, last week GM made a big move to onshore the battery materials part of its electric vehicle supply chain. The company is pumping $1 billion or more into Phase II of its "Ultium CAM" joint venture with the Korean firm POSCO Future M. The joint venture, which is majority owned by POSCO, is aimed at supporting GM's Ultium lithium-ion EV battery platform.

CAM stands for Cathode Active Materials, a combination of lithium and other raw materials that go into lithium-ion EV batteries. The Phase II investment also integrates pCAM, which refers to the engineering of precursor materials for producing CAM.

With CAM production concentrated mainly in Asia, GM and other US automakers are on the prowl for opportunities to shore up their North American supply chains, which is what Phase II of the POSCO hookup will do.

"The Ultium CAM joint venture will support production of approximately 360,000 Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Buick and BrightDrop vehicles annually in the 2025-2030 timeframe in North America," GM stated.

The big announcement left one thing out, which is the location of the new, integrated CAM/pCAM processing facility.

GM has dozens of manufacturing facilities around the US, including two EV battery cell factories in its union-friendly home state of Michigan. Georgia has come up empty-handed so far, but that doesn't mean right-to-work states are out of the running. GM also has battery cell plants in Ohio and Tennessee.

If you have any idea where the new Ultium CAM facility will land, drop us a note in the comment thread. Meanwhile, the POSCO angle is yet another hint that GM is eyeballing solid-state EV battery technology.

GM dropped a hint about its solid-state battery intentions back in 2021, when it announced plans for a joint venture with POSCO Chemical to launch Phase I of the Ultium CAM project. POSCO surfaced again last fall, when GM tapped the company as one of its six strategic supply chain partners.

Something may be bubbling up over at a GM research laboratory in China, too. Earlier this year, GM reported that its GM China Science Lab in Shanghai received the 2022 R&D 100 Award for its new solid-state battery technology, which GM has described as "game-changing."

That flew under the CleanTechnica radar, but game-changing seems about right.

"The high-power bipolar solid-state battery technology offers excellent thermal stability and abuse tolerance, compared with conventional liquid electrolyte," GM enthused in its Spring 2023 online newsletter. "Its unique bipolar stacking and proprietary interfacial ionic booster greatly enhance its all-climate serviceability and give it a simplified configuration."

The GM newsletter also cited Dr. Helen Liu, manager of the Battery Lab Group, who said that the "highly safe battery innovation offers huge potential applications for promoting electrification inside and outside the automotive industry."

It's almost as if Dr. Liu had Georgia on her mind when she said that thing about inside and outside the auto industry. After all, the Electrification and Innovation Alliance, which was launched by Governor Kemp himself in 2021, is already thinking well beyond plain old electric cars.

"In recent years we have witnessed ongoing advancements in fields such as battery technology, flying vehicles, autonomous driving and unmanned aircraft systems — developments like these are driving the electric mobility industry," EMIA declares.

"The Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance will ensure that our state is positioned to continue leading the nation in the rapidly growing electric mobility industry," Governor Kemp agreed somewhat dryly, in a 2021 press release announcing the launch of EMIA.

So, does this mean all that stuff about the woke mob is just a bunch of hot air? Just asking.

Find me on Spoutible: @TinaMCasey or LinkedIn @TinaMCasey or Mastodon @Casey or Post @tinamcasey.

Image: Vehicle electrification featuring GM concept cars (courtesy of GM).

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.

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