President Biden snubbed Tesla CEO Elon Musk by not inviting the top electric car maker to the White House for a Thursday event advocating for half of new cars to be electric by 2030.
Biden instead hosted execs from the “Big Three” domestic car companies as he signed a non-binding executive order laying out the goal — and then drove an electric Jeep around the White House driveway.
Musk revealed the snub on Twitter, prompting questions about why the administration would exclude the company that sells more electric cars in the US than all competitors combined, including the Big Three.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday at a press briefing that “today, it’s the three largest employers of the United Auto Workers and the UAW president who will stand with President Biden as he announces his ambitious new target.”
Musk’s Tesla car company does not have a unionized workforce.
When a reporter asked Psaki to confirm the snub was the result of Tesla being a non-union shop, she said, “these are the three largest employers of the United Auto Workers, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.”
At the event, Biden repeatedly stressed the possible benefits to union workers from an electric vehicle transition.
“When I hear ‘climate’ I think jobs — good paying union jobs,” Biden said on the White House lawn.
Executives from the Big Three were on hand to show their voluntary adherence to the idea, an administration official said. Some of their car models were rolled onto the White House driveway in a free advertising opportunity.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to encourage and protect the right of workers to unionize and collectively bargain. The bottom line is, we are proposing a blue collar blueprint to rebuild America,” Biden said.
“We need you to deepen your partnership with the UAW [and] continue to pay good wages and support local communities across the country. That’s why I’m so proud the UAW is standing here today as well.”
According to government data, companies in the US sold nearly 327,000 electric vehicles in 2019. More than 47 percent of those sales were the Tesla Model 3, which starts at about $40,000. Another 6 percent were the more expensive Tesla Model X, which starts at about $100,000, and nearly 5 percent were the Tesla Model S, which starts at about $90,000.
Domestic US manufacturers other than Tesla made up a tiny sliver of the market. The top plug-in vehicle sold by the “Big Three” in 2019 was GM’s Chevy Bolt, with about 5 percent of the market.
The Toyota Prius hybrid had a more than 7 percent market share in 2019, followed by the Nissan Leaf at around 4 percent and the Honda Clarity at more than 3 percent.
Psaki was pressed on the sincerity of the Big Three by a reporter who noted that they successfully persuaded the Trump administration to block Obama-era fuel efficiency standards due to the increased cost of manufacturing.
“They’re standing with the president today while he’s making this announcement. That is certainly significant,” Psaki said. “And we’ve also seen a lot of these industries move in the direction of electric vehicles.”
Biden also announced Thursday that federal agencies will propose new rules for fuel efficiency standards for new cars that use petroleum.
Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, wrote on Twitter that it “seems odd that Tesla wasn’t invited” to the electric vehicle event at the White House.
The reason for Tesla’s exclusion was not immediately clear and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a CNBC interview that “I’m not sure” why the company was snubbed.
The leaders of Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the corporate entity that owns Chrysler, were invited to the White House.
The cost of electric vehicles tends to be higher, though Biden has argued that the US can use the might of federal tax credits and purchasing power to make environmentally friendly options more competitive. Conservative officials have called for the free market to dictate the future of cars.