A visit to the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche plants in Stuttgart, Germany, proved to be a wake-up call for Georgia in the United States – and the response has been to create a multi-party stakeholder grouping to ensure that the state takes the lead in the electric vehicle manufacturing race.
“When you see what massive investment these global automotive players have made in change, it dawns on you that this (electric vehicle) revolution is coming. It is not theoretical. It’s not something that people are just talking about. We decided we need to be participating or risk getting left behind,” Pat Wilson, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) told Automotive Industries (AI) in an interview.
He and Governor Brian P. Kemp realized that some 55,000 Georgian jobs are on the line, and the response has been to launch a statewide initiative to strengthen Georgia’s position as a national leader in the electric mobility industry. Driven by the GDEcD, the Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance (EMIA) includes partners from the private and public sectors ranging from government, industry, electric utilities, education, nonprofits, and other stakeholders.
Speaking at the launch, Governor Kemp said, “Georgia has a proven record of investing early in the resources and infrastructure needed to connect it to the world and develop jobs of the future.”
Wilson says the EMIA scope goes beyond the assembly of electric vehicles. “We are looking at the entire industry, which is in a state of transition. Starting with rare earth metals we are looking at the entire supply chain all the way to the assembly of electric vehicles. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to create jobs across the breadth of the industry by participating in the technology which is disrupting traditional automotive manufacturing”.
A win for the state is an agreement between two rival Korean companies which has seen work resume on a nearly US$2.6 billion battery plant in Commerce, Georgia. It will supply Ford and Volkswagen with batteries for their electric vehicles. “If you look at just lithium-ion batteries, right now the United States produces around 10% of the batteries we use. China is producing 70% or more. We have to be more integrated into the transition from internal combustion engines. Today the whole vehicle is designed around the battery itself. So, the presence of a battery plant attracts a number of additional supply chain opportunities. Five suppliers have already announced plans to establish plants around the battery plant,” Wilson told AI.
According to the GDEcD, investors include Dutch e-mobility charging systems leader Heliox, Turkish EV-parts manufacturer TEKLAS, German-owned lightweight automotive-body parts manufacturer GEDIA, and SK-supplier EnChem of Korea. They are building on an established base – in 2018, school bus manufacturer Blue Bird introduced a range of all-electric buses made in Georgia. The company recently reported its 500th delivery of an electric bus.
Asked about the role of non-profits in EMIA, Wilson said “we have a number of non-profits in Georgia that are that are focused on innovation around the automotive industry”. These include The Ray, a non-profit public-private partnership and living highway testbed located on Georgia’s I-85 between LaGrange and the Alabama state line.
The Ray is also involved in the Peachtree Corners municipality in Georgia, home to Curiosity Lab, a 5G-enabled autonomous vehicle and sm
art city living laboratory. The centerpiece of the lab is a 1.5-mile test and demo track which provides a real-world environment to explore emerging technologies. Additional infrastructure includes a network operations center, smart poles, DSRC units, dedicated fiber and a 25,000 square foot tech incubator.
Looking ahead, Wilson says the challenge facing the EMIA stakeholders is to make recommendations on policy and investments by the state that are required to ensure that it is able to deliver all key elements needed by the industry to grow and succeed, whether it be workforce, business policies, infrastructure or supply chain.
Given the speed of change in the auto industry, there are tight timelines. “We’ve divided the EMIA into different work streams, which will help us to figure out what we really need to focus on. We are hoping for actionable suggestions which enable the state government to make the transition to electric vehicles as easy as possible for all concerned.”
One of the key focus areas will be ensuring that the workforce is fully equipped – starting at school level, and including the retraining of those already employed in the automotive sector. “We will not succeed in the transition without a pipeline of the right skills,” says Wilson.
In conjunction with the EMIA initiative, GDEcD has launched new website assets at: georgia.org/mobility.