Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh took the automaker's fight against a proposed $4,500 additional federal incentive for union-made battery-electric vehicles to the SiriusXM airwaves during an interview Wednesday, calling it "fundamentally wrong" and "putting the resources in the wrong place."
Speaking on Doron Levin's "In the Driver's Seat" on SiriusXM's Business Radio (Channel 132), Keogh said VW, Toyota, Nissan and other foreign automakers with plants in the U.S. shouldn't be disadvantaged because their facilities are nonunion. The $4,500 federal credit has been proposed by Michigan lawmakers for inclusion in the federal budget reconciliation bill, or Build Back Better Act, now being negotiated by Democrats in Congress.
"Look, I'm going to be quite blunt and straightforward," Keogh said in the interview, set to air Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. "I think it's wrong. I think it's fundamentally wrong. I think an American working in Chattanooga, Tenn., or an American working in any plant in America should get their fair day in court. And there shouldn't be a bigger incentive."
Keogh continued: "For this sake, as you know, it's upwards of $4,500 a car if it's union-made versus nonunion American-made. I think they're American plants. We all want the same exact thing. I thought we did. We want electrical vehicles on the road because it's good for the environment. It's going to be good for American competitiveness. Two, we want these cars built in America, and whether it's Tennessee, whether it's Michigan, whether it's Alabama, whether it's Ohio, that's what we want. So I think it's putting the resources in the wrong place, on the wrong exposure."
Other international automakers have spoken out against the proposal, including Toyota, which issued a statement against the proposal on Oct. 12, quoting Stephen Ciccone, group vice president at Toyota Motor North America.
Ciccone said in the statement: "Thousands of hard-working auto workers across the U.S. are just as American and deserve as much support for their work in building the electrification of the nation's cars as anybody else. While Congress is debating whether there is enough money for child care, family leave, health care and other issues, House Members who support giving $12,500 to people who can afford a $75,000 electric car are discriminating against thousands of American auto workers and passing on priorities of higher importance."
In the interview, Keogh said automakers such as VW are "expressing ourselves. I think as an industry, from Toyota and Nissan and ourselves, we've written a letter to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi. We've spoken to various people in the government to express our point of view. We're not politicians. What we have done is invested billions of dollars in America with our plants in Chattanooga, with the SKI battery plants in Georgia, just across the border. And we're behind making this happen, American jobs for Americans. And I think it's putting the resources in the wrong place."
The UAW tried twice to organize VW's Chattanooga assembly complex, once in 2014 and again in 2019. The union lost the election by 44 votes in 2014 and by fewer than 30 votes in 2019. At that time, the campaign over whether the plant's then-1,700 workers should form a union was very vocal and involved a personal, company-time visit from Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee as well as statements against the union from other prominent Republican officials in the state, including U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn.
During the interview, Keogh did say that VW and other automakers support other provisions of both the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Build Back Better — specifically those to broaden the nation's charging infrastructure and additional purchasing incentives for EVs.
"I think there's two things that they've put on the table and we firmly support. No. 1, continue to expand the incentives on the hood of the vehicle to make these prices dramatically more approachable for the American consumer. I think that's necessary for new technology, should guide the adoption," he said. "The second thing I think the Biden administration is right [about] is continue to double down on the infrastructure. I think the latest is, they're looking to add something like 50,000 chargers across America. I think this is right because infrastructure builds trust."
Said Keogh: "Even if I don't need the station, I see it, I feel good about it. It's like a warm blanket. I have this comfort factor. So that's what the government is looking to do, and we are behind it. We've been behind the government on two fronts. One, increasing the requirements because we do believe that we need a cleaner environment, but two, making sure we have the right affordability and the infrastructure to make it happen."
Audrey LaForest contributed to this report.