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Development of electric vehicles in Ohio needs jolt

Our country’s automotive history is deeply rooted in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley. The Packard Motor Co. built its first car, which ran on a single cylinder engine, in 1899 in Warren. Over six decades later, General Motors brought a sprawling industrial complex to Lordstown that churned out more than 16 million vehicles over its lifetime. Today, we can write the next chapter of our automotive history as we begin to rebuild our economy after the coronavirus pandemic. If Ohio wants to keep leading in American auto manufacturing, we must be geared toward developing, manufacturing and driving vehicles that also run on electricity.

Electric cars and trucks are no longer an engineering fantasy. The technology needed to manufacture these innovations has advanced so quickly that electric vehicles can drive 400 miles before refueling, soon costing the same as gas-powered vehicles. Every major automotive analyst predicts the future of transportation is electric. The only remaining question is where to build these vehicles. Let’s build them in Ohio.

To attract electric-vehicle investment into our state, we must show businesses we’re committed to an electric future. That’s why Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, and I proposed Senate Bill 257, which provides tax rebates for electric-vehicle purchases and charging infrastructure. If passed, this bill would boost demand for electric cars and trucks here at home and lead to more jobs along the electric-vehicle supply chain for Ohio’s skilled manufacturing workforce.

But we need more political leadership from both sides of the aisle to help our existing supply chains adapt for production and to attract new manufacturing and technology companies. For example, our state government must work with our universities, community colleges and other institutions to train our workers. This training would be to manufacture electric-car batteries and other parts and for service technicians and software engineers that will work with these next-generation technologies. We also need to encourage private-sector investment by providing financing for technology start-ups and manufacturing in the Mahoning Valley and throughout Ohio.

Instead of moving toward this goal, last year the Ohio Legislature slapped a hefty annual fee of up to $200 on electric cars, discouraging use. We must reduce this annual fee so it’s equivalent to what drivers would be paying in gas taxes, instead of penalizing drivers for choosing to buy more efficient electric vehicles.

We’ve also missed opportunities to keep pace with other states in attracting an electric-vehicle economy. Massachusetts and New Jersey recently passed

electric-vehicle incentives to get a foothold in this market. Ohio has none. Two-thirds of all electric cars and trucks have been sold in just nine states, all offering strong financial incentives for buyers. Adding Ohio financial incentives will send a strong signal to car makers and suppliers that Ohio understands the electric-vehicle economy and is a good place to locate business.

There are bright spots. We are a leading state in electric-vehicle jobs, which grew 24 percent in 2018 compared to 2 percent for other jobs. We’ve attracted billions of dollars in investment in the electric vehicle and battery space from major auto and tech companies and hold some of the country’s leading research centers in advanced vehicle technologies.

But in the next five years, demand for electric-vehicle batteries in the U.S. will grow by 55 percent, meaning the U.S. will need a lot more battery manufacturing jobs. Some estimate electric vehicles will help create over 100,000 jobs in the coming decade. With states like Michigan and Tennessee actively working to lure those automaker investments to their states, Ohio could lose its edge if it doesn’t adapt to evolving needs of this fast-growing market.

Electric vehicles will not just help our state economy, but they will also improve our air quality and save drivers money. Today’s average electric vehicle owner can reduce maintenance costs by about half and save more than $1,000 per year on fuel, compared to a similar gasoline vehicle. The price of electricity historically has been more stable than that of gasoline, which can fluctuate wildly based on whims of the global oil market.

In the coming decades, electric vehicles will replace internal combustion engines just like the modern car replaced horse-drawn buggies. The decisions that legislators in Ohio make today will determine our role in that not-too-distant future. Let’s make sure Ohio remains a manufacturing and jobs leader in the fast-growing electric car industry. Let’s pass Senate Bill 257.

Michael Rulli is an Ohio state senator representing the 33rd district, which includes Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

columns@tribtoday.com

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