SouthBound - Winter 2024

Is what’s going on in the automotive industry real? A mirage? Maybe it’s somewhere in between?

By Michael Randle, Editor

In over 40 years of studying the game of economic development (which has always reminded me of the board game Stratego, complete with miners, bombs, spies, scouts and generals), I have never seen numbers like these. Not even close. 

Are we so frenzied with daily political drama we don’t even notice the billions being invested, or at least announced. . .so many billions that they boggle the mind? Are there simply too many distractions, such as social media and streaming services, to even care that in just three short years about $150 billion in investments have been announced by automotive OEMs in the electrification of a really old industry?

SB&D tracks everything with the resources we have. And in the automotive world, so does the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research (CAR). CEO Alan Amici spoke to our Southern Economic Development Roundtable group in January (SEDR@ThePearl) and he and others will present at our Southern Automotive Corridor Summit, August 15-17 at the Grand Bohemian Lodge in downtown Greenville, S.C. Want to go? Let me know. You must be invited to attend. 

I touched on the subject in this issue’s cover story. According to Amici, and CAR, $4 billion in investments were announced in North America by automakers in 2018. From 2021 to 2023, $146 billion in investments were announced, almost all on the electrification of automotive; $82.5 billion in 2023 alone. As Amici said at SEDR@ThePearl, “We are in the fourth year of a 110-year-old industry.” Whoa!

An “announcement” of a deal is one thing. For the deal to work and be real is another. What is going on now with next-generation mobility is not sustainable. There is just way too much competition and incentives too great to pass up. 

It seems that each quarter an EV startup announces a deal. This past quarter it was Scout Motors (South Carolina) and Imola Automotive (Georgia). Imola Automotive? Will Imola really house 7,500 workers at a proposed plant in Fort Valley, Ga., after Rivian Automotive officially delayed the groundbreaking of its plant east of Atlanta? And after Tesla just cut nearly 3,000 jobs at its gigafactory in Austin in April? 

I was there when the late Gov. Carroll Campbell announced BMW in Greer, S.C. A watershed moment for the South. It was a long time ago and we will be back there with our Southern Automotive Corridor Summit this summer at the Grand Bohemian Lodge in downtown Greenville, S.C. 

I was also there when Alabama announced Mercedes-Benz, on a hillside in Tuscaloosa County, and someone in our group said, “Can’t you just smell the paint shop from here?” That was over 30 years ago. 

Those two deals and so many more in the third largest economy in the world were sound, solid projects that have changed the economies of those two states forever. Yet, at the time, like today, they were considered crap shoots. 

As for the electric vehicle industry, it remains to be seen how it will shake out. After all, we are only in the “fourth year of a 110-year-old industry.” It better work out. . .there’s just too much money on the table for it not to.

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