Georgia, Tennessee lead in electric vehicle investments, jobs

South still trails US in EV adoption on the road

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm spoke in 2021 at a celebration of the new Novonix battery plant in Chattanooga, which is among more than $16 billion of electric vehicle-related investments made in the Volunteer State.

A year after the adoption of the Inflation Reduction Act designed to spur clean energy investments, Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas all rank in the top 10 nationally for new electric vehicle and battery investments that have helped boost EV-related employment in the Southeast by 60% in the past year, a new study shows.

But the share of electric vehicles on the road across the South still trails the U.S. average, and many Republican leaders remain wary of federal policies and credits pushed by President Joe Biden to promote more electrification and a greener economy.

A new study by the consulting firm Atlas Public Policy released Wednesday by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy estimates the six states in the Southeast — North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Florida — have collectively attracted more than $60 billion of EV-related investments, generating 65,392 jobs. Employment in the region from electric vehicles, batteries and related businesses jumped by 60% in the past year as new federal incentives have brought more EV and battery production to the United States, especially in the growing South.

"The Southeast is poised to be a leading EV manufacturing hub in the U.S.," Tom Taylor, a senior policy analyst for Atlas Public Policy, said in the 34-page report.

Charging up the South

— Georgia: Electric vehicle-related employment grew 76% in the past year to 27,827 jobs from $20.4 billion in EV investments.

— Tennessee: Electric vehicle-related employment grew 18% in the past year to 12,719 jobs from $16.8 billion in EV investments.

— Alabama: Electric-vehicle-related employment grew 40% in the past year to 2,208 jobs from $2.6 billion in EV investments.

Source: Atlas Public Policy and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Georgia had the most announced EV jobs in the nation with 27,817 jobs related to battery-powered cars and trucks from the $20.4 billion of investments from auto manufacturers Hyundai, Kia and Rivian and battery makers LG Energy and SK Battery America.

Tennessee ranked No. 2 with 12,719 jobs from $16.8 billion of EV investments from auto manufacturers Volkswagen, General Motors, Nissan and Ford and battery suppliers such as Ultium Cells, Novonix, SK Battery and Piedmont Lithium, among others.

Straddling the two top EV states, Chattanooga is poised to be the buckle of the emerging battery belt, according to University of South Florida professor Tom Waters, who studies emerging industries. Chattanooga is ideally suited to tap into what experts project will be a $134 billion market for EVs and batteries by 2027, Waters said.

  photo  Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / An electric vehicle charges at the Tennessee Valley Authority's downtown Chattanooga offices Feb. 16.

Locally produced power

The Southeast is not only benefiting from new electric vehicle, battery and solar energy investments. In the Southeast, more than three times the money spent to power electric vehicles stays in the region compared to money spent on fuel for gas-powered vehicles.

Because the Southeast produces or refines comparatively little oil or gasoline, most of the money spent to power gas-powered cars and trucks flows out of the region.

"The Southeast really doesn't have any skin in the oil game since we don't have oil production or refining happening in these states," Stan Cross, the senior electric transportation program manager for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said. He was speaking on a conference call Wednesday releasing the results of the alliance's fourth annual study on electrification in transportation.

"As a result, when consumers in these states go to the gas pump to fill up the tanks on their cars and trucks, only about 23 cents of every dollar spent at the pump stays in the Southeast. Whereas with electric vehicles, about 71 cents of every dollar spent on what is primarily locally generated electricity stays in the Southeast."

If all of the cars and trucks in the Southeast were electric, the region would get a $60 billion boost, Cross estimated.

South lags in EV adoption

While the Southeast is seeing more EV sales and manufacturing, the region continues to lag behind the national average in EV adoption and charging infrastructure investment, according to the Atlas study.

Nationwide, more than 9% of new cars are electric powered, but the share of EVs in Tennessee is less than half the U.S. rate, and Alabama's adoption of electric vehicles is only a third of the national average, according to the Atlas study.

Despite a generous $7,500 tax credit for buying new electric vehicles, most EVs are priced higher than gasoline-powered cars and trucks, and EVs may not generate as many auto production jobs as the gas-powered vehicles they replace.

  photo  Staff photo / Electric vehicle chargers are seen at Nokian Tyres in 2021 in Dayton, Tenn.

Inflation, job concerns

While environmentalists claim electrification of the economy is adding more jobs, former President Donald Trump disputes such claims. In a Labor Day message to auto workers Monday, Trump blasted the Biden administration's efforts to replace gas-powered cars and trucks with electric vehicles, claiming the shift is not wanted by most motorists and will cost many of the jobs now in the automotive industry as manufacturers of gas engines, transmissions and fuel pumps are reduced, and gas stations, oil changing shops and other petroleum-based businesses shed hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs as EVs replace gas vehicles.

"What's happening to our auto workers is an absolute disgrace and an outrage beyond belief," Trump said in a statement Monday. "These people are allowing our country to do these electric vehicles that very few people want. And it's a mandate so you'll ultimately be forced to drive in a car that goes for an hour and then you have to have it recharged. I hope you don't want to go very far away."

Trump said Biden wants two-thirds of all cars to be battery powered in the next decade, which Trump called an "outlandish requirement.

"Those cars are all going to be made in China," Trump said.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who voted against the Inflation Reduction Act and other infrastructure measures providing federal credits for clean energy investments, also criticized the effectiveness of Biden's policies and incentives to promote electric vehicles. In a message released Wednesday following her statewide tour across Tennessee during the congressional break, Blackburn blamed Biden's policies for pushing up inflation and hurting overall economic growth.

"Although Tennessee is flourishing, we still have a lot of work to do," she said. "Businesses are investing in the state, innovation is laying the groundwork for future growth, and jobs are plentiful, but Biden's harmful policies have placed an unsustainable burden on just about everyone. Going from county to county convinced me of one thing — we need a lot less D.C. in Tennessee, and a lot more Tennessee in D.C."

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.

  photo  Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Novonix is housed in the former Alstom plant in dowtown Chattanooga, shown here in 2021 when the battery material plant maker first opened.