To Speed Our COVID-19 Recovery, Let's Get America Moving Again
From thousands of lost lives to millions unemployed, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis across the United States. The response is expected to be equally exceptional, from shoring up our healthcare system to reversing our shrinking economy.
In putting the country back to work, the federal government will be spending significant sums of money to stimulate the economy. President Trump already signed a $2 trillion stimulus package in March, of which $290 billion was for the stimulus checks alone, and there is much more to come.
Given the scale of the spending, it is vital that every dollar is spent as wisely as possible. Rather than simply returning to the status quo, smarter spending can bring key sectors of the economy back stronger than they were, creating a more robust and resilient economy as a result.
Transportation is one such crucial sector. Not only does it provide employment—our auto industry supports 10 million jobs, and our transit agencies employ over 430,000 people—but it underpins our mobile economy and catalyzes productivity.
A new report we helped author called Get America Moving Again (GAMA) shows that there are smart investments of the stimulus money to rescue and recover our transit system, while also stimulating and preparing our auto industry for leadership in the next era of transportation technologies.
Governments and companies have already invested hundreds of billions of dollars in the switch from today’s petroleum-based transportation to an electrified, digitized future consisting of connected, autonomous, shared and electric vehicles.
This switch will make us energy secure, as our energy sources for electricity are domestic, abundant, and their prices will be steady for decades to come. Although the United States is the world leader in oil production, we remain energy insecure. We are hostage to a volatile supply and price in a world oil market in which our adversaries have power and influence. So, diversifying the fuel for our transportation sector is a good thing.
However, the switch will trade one national dependence for another without smart government action. The countries that realize and refine these technologies first will dominate the transportation industry across the world for decades to come and reap the economic rewards. It is not the United States currently leading this race. China is in pole position, exerting vast control over the entire electric vehicle (EV) supply chain.
GAMA proposes Cash For Clunkers 2.0, a voucher program that encourages drivers to switch to more efficient vehicles—with even greater rewards for those who switch away from conventional gasoline engines. The EV tax credit should also be expanded and new tax credits should be created for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, to drive adoption across all classifications.
Retooling current U.S. plants to produce these new vehicles is vital for meeting this rising demand. The Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program must be updated to allow manufacturers to overhaul current facilities and make them ready for alternative fuel vehicles. This program must be expanded to include medium- and heavy-duty manufacturers, autonomous vehicle companies and the micromobility industry.
Moreover, a competitive EV grant program to support manufacturing investments—as Congress did in 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act—should be seeded and implemented to retool domestic manufacturing facilities for the cars of the future.
Further support can be given through a revived 48C advanced manufacturing tax credit to re-equip, expand, or establish domestic manufacturing facilities. Federal spending on EV charging infrastructure will also incentivize private sector installation and establishing a nationwide fueling network—while also creating near-term, shovel-ready jobs.
These investments, however, will require a robust supply chain. As we have seen in recent weeks with pharmaceuticals and PPE, basing an industry’s entire supply chain on one country jeopardizes our economic security. We can also no longer afford to rely on China for the strategic minerals required to build the batteries and components that will power these vehicles.
This century will be defined by the United States’ relationship with China, a country that has emerged as our prime competitor on the world stage. The United States and its allies have the minerals, technology and expertise to reduce its reliance on China, and utilizing stimulus money now to accelerate the development of this supply chain must be a strategic imperative.
Leveraging the stimulus spending now will not only bring greater returns, but also accomplish three key goals: Our national security will be enhanced by a domestic EV supply chain, we will further reduce our dependence on oil, and we will strengthen our hand against China—our greatest rival in this new era.
Admiral Dennis Blair is the former Director of National Intelligence and Commander-In-Chief, U.S. Pacific Command.
Mark Joseph is the CEO of Mobitas Advisors and the former Chief Development Officer (Global) of Transdev.