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Transportation chief Pete Buttigieg credits Musk’s Tesla for helping make EVs ‘possible in America’

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday recognized Tesla as a pioneer of electric vehicle manufacturing in the U.S.

“We admire the range of American companies that have innovated, including Tesla, which did so much to make EVs possible in America,” Buttigieg said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” 

“Now it’s mainstream. Earlier on, at a time when U.S. policy with tax credits was supporting companies like Tesla, that wasn’t viewed as such a sure bet,” he added.

Buttigieg’s acknowledgment of that role in U.S. innovation comes a day after President Joe Biden publicly spoke about Tesla for the first time in his presidency, calling the California-based company “our nation’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer.”

Biden had reportedly previously been reluctant to note Tesla’s market-leading position due to the anti-union stance of its chief executive, Elon Musk. Tesla’s factory workforce is not unionized, and Musk has pushed back on organizing efforts within the company.

The U.S. House of Representatives in November passed the Build Back Better Act, which includes tax incentives up to $12,500 for buyers of American, union-made EVs, although the bill has not passed the Senate. Musk has previously accused the president of being “controlled by unions.”

The Biden administration drew ire from Musk fans last August when it invited General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler — the largest employers of United Auto Workers’ members — to the White House last year for a discussion on electric vehicles and snubbed Tesla. Those automakers have recently announced a litany of major investments in EVs, as they seek to wrestle market share away from Musk’s company.

Tesla is the dominant player in the U.S. electric vehicle market and the most valuable automaker in the world, with its market capitalization surpassing $1 trillion late last year; it has since retreated and stood around $933.5 billion as of Wednesday. Tesla delivered nearly a million vehicles globally in 2021, an 87% increase from the previous year.

When asked about any union-related grievances the president might hold against Tesla, Buttigieg responded, “We believe in good paying jobs, and we believe that unions built the middle class.”

In general, the U.S. has an essential role to play in the transition to electric vehicles, Buttigieg added.

“Again, there’s no question whether autos are headed electric. The question is, ‘Will we get there in time? Will it be made in America?'” he said.

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