Youngkin halted Ford battery plant efforts in Virginia over concerns about China

By: - January 12, 2023 5:27 pm

Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers the State of the Commonwealth to the Virginia General Assembly Jan. 11, 2023. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration halted efforts to site a Ford battery plant in Virginia late last year over concerns about Chinese Communist Party influence. 

Speaking to reporters after the annual State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday, Youngkin said his administration “felt that the right thing to do was to not recruit Ford as a front for China to America.” 

A spokesperson for his office said the governor’s comments were linked to the possibility of Ford Motor Company building a battery manufacturing plant in Virginia that would be operated by Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., or CATL, a Chinese company that is the largest producer of electric vehicle batteries in the world and under the Ford agreement would retain ownership of the technology used in building the battery cells. 

Bloomberg reported this December that Ford was eyeing Virginia as a competitor to Michigan, the auto giant’s home state. 

Less than a week later, right-wing news outlet The Daily Caller published a story citing an anonymous source who claimed Youngkin had directed the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to remove Virginia from the running for the project. 

The Youngkin administration did not provide further details about incentives considered for the project, potential sites or when Virginia withdrew from consideration.

Suzanne Clark, a spokesperson for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said that “for competitive reasons and to protect company confidentiality, VEDP will not comment on unannounced projects.”

Ford did not respond to specific inquiries about Youngkin’s remarks about the Ford plant serving as “a front for China” and whether the company’s plans were a security risk.

“As we shared in July, Ford plans to localize and use approximately 40 GWh of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery capacity in North America starting in 2026,” spokesperson Hannah Ooms said in an email. “We also announced a separate (memorandum of understanding) with CATL to explore a cooperation for supplying batteries for Ford vehicles in markets across North America, Europe and China. Our talks with CATL continue – and we have nothing new to announce on either front.”

The governor’s comments about the Ford proposal followed a series of dire warnings about Chinese influence and farmland purchases during his Wednesday speech to the General Assembly, which convened for the 2023 legislative session earlier that day. 

Youngkin, who was the target this November of a social media swipe from former President Donald Trump that called him “Young Kin” and said the name “sounds Chinese,” denounced “the ever-growing threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses to our national security, our privacy and our way of life in Virginia.” 

“Virginians should also be wary of Chinese Communist intrusion into Virginia’s economy,” he said. “We welcome and encourage economic cooperation with international companies. … But let me be clear, ‘Made in Virginia’ cannot be a front for the Chinese Communist Party.” 

Youngkin later told reporters that his prior role as co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that has invested extensively in China, made him “uniquely positioned to understand how the Chinese Communist Party works.” 

“I understand what they’re doing,” he said. “They have one objective: global dominance at the expense of the United States.” 

Much of Youngkin’s criticism of the Ford proposal Wednesday was accompanied by criticism of what he called Democratic President Joe Biden’s “maniacal focus on getting rid of all fossil fuel generation, replacing it with solar, wind, or replacing every car immediately with batteries” when “the reality is that the technology that in fact drives all that is owned and dominated by the Chinese.” 

Concern over China’s primacy in the manufacturing of batteries and solar panels is shared by many policymakers in Washington on both sides of the aisle, particularly as renewables increasingly displace coal and put pressure on natural gas. Federal legislation backed by the White House and congressional Democrats has sought to jumpstart American manufacturing in both sectors: The CHIPS Act commits $52 billion in subsidies to domestic semiconductor manufacturers, while the Inflation Reduction Act ties tax credits for wind, solar and battery components to those materials’ production in the U.S


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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.