ATLANTA – Kia Motors America, which operates an assembly plant in Troup County producing 340,000 vehicles a year, recently dropped “Motors” from its name and is now known simply as “Kia America.”
The reason? The Korean automaker’s $25 billion plan to transition to electric vehicles soon will make “motors” obsolete.
That same trend is behind Gov. Brian Kemp’s announcement July 20 of a new statewide initiative aimed at strengthening Georgia’s status as a leader in the electric mobility industry.
The Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance (EMIA) will bring industry executives together with state leaders in government, education, utilities and nonprofits to look for ways to build up an industry that already has enjoyed some major successes.
“Georgia has a proven track record of investing early in the resources and infrastructure needed to connect it to the world and develop jobs of the future,” Kemp said. “The Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance will ensure that our state is positioned to continue leading the nation in the rapidly growing electric mobility industry.”
The EMIA won’t be starting its work from scratch. Georgia already boasts an impressive roster of recent international investments in electric mobility, including:
- two SK Innovation electric vehicle battery manufacturing facilities in Jackson County, a nearly $2.6 billion investment by the South Korean company.
- Dutch electric-vehicle charging company Heliox’s decision to base its North American headquarters in Atlanta.
- Turkish electric-vehicle parts manufacturer TEKLAS, which plans to open its first North American plant in Gordon County.
- German-owned GEDIA, a manufacturer of lightweight auto-body parts, which plans to open a plant in Whitfield County.
- South Korea-based Duckyang, an electric mobility parts supplier, which will build two plants near Braselton.
But there’s still plenty of room for the industry to grow in Georgia, said Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He cited projections showing electric vehicles in Georgia will balloon from just 7% of the market in 2025 to 30% by 2030, 58% by 2040 and 96% by 2050.
“Kia, SK and all these companies have to got to build out these vehicles,” Clark said. “We want Georgia to do it.”
Pat Wilson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, said 55,000 jobs in Georgia are connected in some form to the auto industry. But many of those jobs involve manufacturing vehicles with traditional internal-combustion engines in an industry that is rapidly moving to electric vehicles.
“We’re probably going to see more change in the next 20 years in the auto industry than we’ve seen in the past 100 years,” Wilson said. “We’re focused on public policy that can help drive that transition.”
That’s where the EMIA comes in. Participants in the initiative will be divided into five committees that will set objectives in five categories: supply chain, infrastructure, workforce development, innovation and policy. The Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia will host committee meetings.
Wilson said the auto industry will be represented in the initiative by executives from Kia, Cox Automotive, Porsche – which has its North American headquarters in Hapeville – and Sandy Springs-based Mercedes-Benz USA.
He said the work also will involve executives from Georgia Power and the state’s electric membership cooperatives (EMCs). The public sector will be represented by the state Department of Transportation and the Technical College System of Georgia, which will take part in discussions on workforce development.
“We’re looking at this as a true public-private partnership,” Wilson said.
What emerges from the initiative could come in the form of legislation for the General Assembly to consider, new policy initiatives or a combination of the two.
The state has been down the legislative road on electric mobility before. Lawmakers approved a tax credit for purchasers of electric vehicles back in the 1990s, when EVs were scarce, but eliminated it in 2015 as EV sales soared.
Georgia Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, the 2015 bill’s chief sponsor, said the tax credit was mainly generating sales for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle.
“It wasn’t helping drive innovation,” he said. “It was just subsidizing a purchase.”
Clark agreed a tax credit to stimulate sales of EVs is no longer needed. But he said he expects some form of tax credit proposal could come out of the new initiative that will neither incentivize EV sales or offer the jobs tax credit Georgia traditionally has provided industries the state hopes to attract.
“It’s a new industry, a new economy, and our old jobs tax credit is not going to move the needle for these guys,” he said. “We’re going to have to listen to the industry.”
Clark envisions new tax breaks that would incentivize gasoline stations to install charging stations for EVs or encourage homebuilders to put chargers in new houses.
Martin said state government needs to be careful not to get ahead of the industry by pushing too aggressively for a transition to all electric vehicles.
“Innovation will get us there,” he said. “But in some places, there won’t be the electric grid or charging stations for that to happen.”
Wilson said it’s uncertain what solutions the committees will hit upon.
“We want to go into this with a blank slate and really listen to the professionals,” he said.
Wilson said the committees will meet this fall with a goal of making recommendations in time for the 2022 General Assembly session starting in January.