Column: Clarity needed, President Biden

Editor’s note: President Joe Biden is scheduled to walk the floor of the 2022 Detroit auto show Sept. 14.

Dear Mr. President,

Welcome back to the Detroit auto show. We’ve missed you and every other self-professed auto enthusiast who still garners a visceral thrill just seeing and sitting in the latest and greatest from global automakers.

It’s been a while — almost the length of a presidential term — since we’ve had an auto show in the Motor City.

So as long as you’re here, I’d like to take this opportunity to get you up to speed on our industry — beyond just 0-to-60 in the Ford F-150 Lightning or a quarter-mile in a mid-engine 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06. Trust me, you’re going to need a deeper understanding of what this transition to electrification means beyond just “This sucker’s quick!”

You see, Mr. President, this huge, multitiered trillion-dollar industry is in kind of a weird place right now. Parts of it have never been financially healthier; automakers and auto dealers are reporting huge profits, and have been for a while now. The same can’t be said for suppliers, and there’s probably a reckoning coming for that portion of our industry, if it hasn’t already begun.

The crazy part right now is due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it continues to have on our truly global supply chain. For all of the devastation it caused, the pandemic did open everyone’s eyes to digital retailing and enforced inventory discipline long enough to see the benefits these changes have brought to the industry.

Profits aside, I think you can still count the number of good things that came of the pandemic on one hand, including a more disciplined industry overall. Like the recently converted, automakers and dealers all swear they’ll never return to the bad old days of overproduction and deep discounts and, at least for now, everyone seems to be sticking to that vow.

But you should know, for a guy who regularly professes his love of the auto industry, your administration and your friends in Congress haven’t made it easy.

Yes, the CHIPS act should help us recover our production over the long term, and moves to strengthen U.S. manufacturing and make it more globally competitive are all welcome. But collectively, we’re all still scratching our heads to figure out just which vehicles and consumers will qualify for the EV tax credits included in the Inflation Reduction Act. And more than a few automakers have developed whiplash from the changes in emissions regulations over the last decade, as the nation transitioned from the Obama administration to the Trump administration to yours.

You see, Mr. President, this industry doesn’t change direction or even stop like your classic Corvette. It handles more like an aircraft carrier in a small, shallow harbor — gingerly, with a lot of outside help, and always with an eye on where it needs to go.

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