Automakers are investing billions in electric vehicles and the batteries that power them. Will West Virginia, or Appalachia in general, capitalize on this trend, or will it watch as other states benefit the most from this transition?
Last month, Toyota, Stellantis, Foxconn, Ford and Volvo all made announcements about electric vehicle component or assembly plants, or plans to raise capital to fund the transition. The moves come on top of previous plans from Ford and General Motors to build five U.S. battery factories in anticipation of the shift to electric power, according to the Associated Press.
Toyota says it plans to build a new $1.29 billion factory in the U.S. to manufacture batteries for hybrid and fully electric vehicles. The location wasn’t announced, but the company said it eventually will employ 1,750 people and start making batteries in 2025, gradually expanding through 2031.
The plant is part of $3.4 billion that Toyota plans to spend in the U.S. on automotive batteries during the next decade. It didn’t detail where the remaining $2.1 billion would be spent, but part of that likely will go for another battery factory, according to the AP.
Last week, Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia announced plans to invest $240 million in its factory near Buffalo in Putnam County for a new, dedicated line of hybrid transaxles. At the announcement, Sen. Joe Manchin said he is talking to Toyota officials about building the new plant in West Virginia, but they haven’t made any commitments.
“It’s a perfect fit,” he said. “There is no better place they could choose than West Virginia.”
According to the AP, the new plant would likely be near one of the company’s U.S. assembly plants in Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama or Texas. The Kentucky assembly plant is the one at Georgetown, just north of Lexington. Buffalo is a three-hour drive from Georgetown. There are plenty of sites between here and there for one or more battery factories.
West Virginia officials, from the governor down, have spent much of the past 18 months dealing with COVID-19 issues and preparing for the 2022 elections. Charter schools have occupied some of their time. But bread-and-butter issues — such as jobs and economic growth — haven’t been on their minds, at least not in most public discourse.
West Virginia has an opportunity to benefit from a shift in the motor vehicle industry. Twenty-six years ago, people in the Tri-State and the Kanawha Valley joined with state and local officials to persuade Toyota to build an engine factory here. The result was the factory in Putnam County.
That energy is lacking in this time of transition. The question is how will state officials respond, or will they?