Automotive News: How American autos can drive the future

Innovation is in our DNA as Americans. From the Wright Brothers' first flight — to the first Model-T that rolled off the assembly line — to the moon landing, America has transformed how the world moves and thinks.

As we look to the future, we once again have the potential to reinvent what it means to get from Point A to Point B. While there is incredible opportunity, we also face significant challenges, including:

  • How the American auto industry can continue to be a global leader in mobility.
  • How we can utilize existing technologies and ongoing research and development r&d to strengthen fuel efficiency.
  • What the federal government must do to not only support auto innovation, but keep up with cutting-edge developments.

On the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, these are issues that I have focused on regularly — and am working to address in a bipartisan way.

For example, it is critical we modernize and invest in r&d programs that keep us at the forefront of mobility. But right now, the primary federal program to support automotive advancements — the Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Program — is authorized by a patchwork of different laws that are in need of updating. This is particularly urgent, given new technologies that have recently emerged.

That's why I introduced the Vehicle Innovation Act: a bipartisan and bicameral effort that will modernize the VTP as we transition into a global clean energy economy. From vehicle weight reductions to reduced fuel production costs, the VTP has a proven track record of improvements in engine efficiency. Passing my legislation — which has support from labor, environmental groups and the auto industry — will put us on the right path.

But there's no question that new technologies are coming. For more than a century there were two certainties in the auto industry: an internal combustion engine to power the car and a driver to steer it. But soon, American ingenuity may take over 100 years of conventional wisdom and put it in the dustbin of history.

That begins with self-driving cars. These vehicles are the future of the auto industry, and the vast majority of them will be electric. Putting more electric vehicles on the roads is not only energy efficient and good for the environment, but also benefits consumers and can lead to more Michigan jobs.

Consumer demand for EVs is increasing: sales of EVs increased by more than 80 percent last year. While that's encouraging, we are also running into a challenge. Under current law, consumers may receive a tax credit of up to $7,500 if they purchase an eligible electric vehicle; however, the tax credits begin to phase out permanently once automakers sell more than 200,000 units.

Phasing out the EV tax credit will not only hurt Michigan's economy, but will leave EVs much less affordable right as demand is on the rise.

So I've joined Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and my colleagues to introduce legislation that will raise that cap and allow purchases of an additional 400,000 vehicles per manufacturer. Doing this will provide greater flexibility and certainty to automakers while supporting Michigan's advanced manufacturing.

Finally, we need to ensure the federal government is prepared for self-driving technologies. Companies are already launching self-driving ride-hailing services. We know self-driving technologies have the potential to reduce more than 90 percent of accidents, save lives, minimize traffic congestion and improve fuel efficiency.

Unfortunately, the federal government is lagging behind.

We need to update the rules that were written decades before anyone imagined self-driving vehicles to ensure they don't block innovation or create unintentional safety hazards. For example, some rules still reference driver controls and human operators that won't be in fully self-driving cars.

If we let foreign competitors outpace us on this technology, we risk ceding current and future manufacturing and r&d jobs in Michigan to other countries. Manufacturing and r&d go hand-in-hand, and if companies can't move forward with their vehicles due to an outdated framework, they'll move their business elsewhere. That's simply unacceptable.

I'm going to continue focusing on the best steps to ensure we can reach the full promise of self-driving cars — so that they can operate on our roads with strong safeguards and oversight in place.

We are living in an exciting time in history. I've visited Michigan suppliers, universities and testing facilities and seen the transformative mobility efforts they are leading. Like generations before us, let us seize this moment and set the marker that defined us in the last century as the one that will continue to define us in this century: that America will lead the world in mobility for years to come.

By:  U.S. Senator Gary Peters
Source: Automotive News