Vulnerable Senate Democrat calls for outright ban on Chinese electric vehicles

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asked President Joe Biden on Thursday to ban all sales of Chinese-made electric vehicles in the United States in an effort to align himself with union voters in the Buckeye State as he faces a tough battle for reelection.

In the letter to Biden, Brown described the Chinese-made EVs as an “existential threat to the American auto industry,” warning that low price points for the Chinese-made vehicles, coupled with steep government subsidies from Beijing, would all but make it impossible for U.S. automakers to compete.

“If Chinese electric vehicles are allowed to enter the U.S. market, it could decimate the American auto industry,” Brown said, noting that American automakers and autoworkers “cannot, and should not be expected to compete.”

There are currently no Chinese-made EVs for sale in the U.S. But Brown’s letter comes as the Alliance of American Automobile Manufacturers and other trade groups have raised fears about the recent influx of Chinese investments in the West and in particular in Mexico, where Chinese-owned BYD and others have spent millions to build out new manufacturing plants.

In a February report, the Alliance of American Automobile Manufacturers described China’s auto manufacturing facilities in Mexico as a strategy designed to “gain backdoor access to American consumers by circumventing existing policies that are keeping China’s autos out of the U.S. market.”

The group added that this would be an “extinction-level event” for the U.S. auto industry.

Chinese EVs are heavily subsidized by the government and carry a much smaller price tag than current U.S. offerings. Prices for BYD’s fully electric Seagull hatchback, for example, start at $10,000, far lower than the cheapest U.S.-made EV, the Nissan Leaf, which starts at a price of $28,140.

The price points have led to fears of China gaining a foothold in the U.S. auto market, which Brown warned in his letter Thursday “would cripple the [U.S.] domestic manufacturing base, including critical inputs from parts suppliers to steel, tires, and glass producers.”

The letter comes as Brown seeks to win over union voters ahead of the November election, in which he will face Republican challenger Bernie Moreno, a vocal EV opponent and founder of the Collection Auto Group, one of the largest car dealership groups in the country.

Moreno has used his background in the car industry to attack Brown and other Democrats for their views on EVs, arguing that the push to electrify the U.S. transportation fleet is effectively “handing over” the nation’s auto industry to China, an effort he has accused Brown of being “all in” on.

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“This irrational move towards electric vehicles — this manic move to electric vehicles is going to destroy the auto industry in America,” Moreno, a Trump-backed candidate, said last month on Sirius XM’s Breitbart News Saturday.

“If you’re an autoworker, if you’re a union worker in Ohio, Sherrod Brown is not looking out for you,” Moreno said. 

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