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Manchin: Electric vehicle tax break would hurt expansion at West Virginia Toyota facility

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., takes questions from the press Thursday after Toyota announced a $240 million investment at its Buffalo plant. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

BUFFALO W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin made it clear Thursday that he would not support an electric vehicle tax break within the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better social spending bill that would hinder Toyota’s plans to expand at the Putnam County plant.

Manchin, D-W.Va., was on hand Thursday morning for a Veterans Day ceremony at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia plant in Buffalo where $225,000 was donated to groups serving veterans and their families.

During Thursday’s event, Ted Ogawa, president and CEO of Toyota Motor North America, announced that Toyota would invest $240 million at the West Virginia plant to add a dedicated production line for transaxles for hybrid-electric vehicles.

“This investment will provide new equipment and operational upgrades to advance the facility,” Ogawa said. “This investment includes our confidence and faith in all of you.”

Hybrid vehicles combine both gasoline-powered combustion engines with battery-powered electric vehicle motor. Hybrid transaxles help transfer power between both motors and wheels depending on the driving environment. The $240 million investment doesn’t involve any new jobs, but the expansion will involve training the plants nearly 2,000 employees and giving them new skills.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Ted Ogawa, president and CEO of Toyota Motor North America, shake hands after Manchin expressed support for eliminating a proposed tax break that would favor union electric vehicle manufacturers over non-union shops like Toyota. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

“This is the next generation of electrification,” said Srini Matam, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia. “We’re already making electric motors here. We’re putting them in our hybrid transaxle with all the quality and safety we achieve. We’ve got more business, so we’re going to make 20,000 per month more of these motor and transaxles. So, it’s a good time for our company.”

The Toyota West Virginia plant is celebrating 25 years in the state this year, with Toyota investing more than $2 billion in West Virginia during that time. The Buffalo plant became the first Toyota plant in the U.S. to manufacture hybrid transaxles in 2017. More expansion could come later on in the decade.

However, Ogawa said further expansion could be hampered should a tax breaking being considered in the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better framework make it through.

The Build Back Better plan, still being negotiated in the U.S. House of Representatives and up for a vote as soon as Monday, includes a $7,500 tax credit for consumers who purchase an electric vehicle. An additional $4,500 tax credit would go to consumers who purchase a union-built American-made electric vehicle. Ogawa said the additional tax credit harms non-domestic automobile manufacturers, such as Toyota.

“To be successful, we need the opportunity to compete on an equal playing field with all auto makers,” Ogawa said. “Even a chance, without any added disadvantages places on the backs of our team members, we are confident you will help build automobiles that customers will choose in an open marketplace.”

“There’s some legislation going through that is truly unfair right now,” Manchin said during his remarks Thursday. “If I were to support something like that and come to you and say something like that ‘hey, sorry to tell you this, but we’re going to give an extra $4,500 to vehicles made by union shops … and your tax dollars are going to pay for your competition to take away your business?’ That is so unjust and unfair.”

Manchin, speaking to press after the ceremony, said he would do all within his power to make sure the Kildee/Stabenow provision – named for Michigan Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. – would not succeed once it gets to the U.S. Senate.

“All we’re asking is for the fairness, and we’ll make sure that we correct some misguided directions, if you will, whatever happens on the next bill,” Manchin said. “When I heard about this, what they were putting in the bill, I went right to (Stabenow) and said this is wrong. This can’t happen. It’s not who we are as a country. It’s not how we built this country. And the product should speak for itself. We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers.”

Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she would offer three amendments to the Build Back Better framework once it gets back to the Senate, including an amendment to strip out the pro-union electric vehicle tax credit. Both Manchin and Capito have been critical of the Build Back Better framework, which includes social spending projects.

Manchin presented flags flown over the U.S. Capitol to Toyota executives and representatives of the West Virginia Gold Star Mothers, The Woody Williams Foundation, and the Fisher House. All three groups received $75,000 each from Toyota West Virginia.

“This state has always led in the percentage of members of men and women who served in the military than most any other state. I’m so proud of them,” Manchin said. “I marvel at the courageous people have and the willingness to sacrifice for all of us. We owe a great debt to all of our veterans who served our nation.”

Gold Star Mothers is a group representing mothers whose children died in the Armed Forces. The Woody Williams Foundation, named for West Virginia native and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, raises awareness about Gold Star families and constructs memorials in their honor. The Fisher House Foundation provides lodging for families of veterans admitted to VA medical centers. West Virginia’s Fisher House is located near the Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center in Huntington.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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