Hyundai is starting construction on a $5.5 billion electric car plant in Georgia

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A robot dog gave a champagne toast and Georgia’s governor and a junior U.S. senator shared a brief bipartisan celebration ahead of a high-stakes election as Hyundai Motor Group opened its first U.S. electric car plant on Tuesday.

Just five months after Hyundai announced A $5.5 billion plant in Bryan County west of Savannah, vast tracts of land have already been cleared of trees. Euisun Chung, executive chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, said the plant would be the envy of the industry.

The South Korean company plans to open a plant in 2025 with at least 8,100 employees that will produce up to 300,000 electric vehicles a year. Georgia officials say it’s the largest economic development project the state has ever seen.

“It’s a game-changer for the region, not just for people’s children now, but for their grandchildren,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “This will be a project that will resonate for generations to come.”

The timing couldn’t be better for Kemp, a Republican, and Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat. The groundbreaking ceremony came two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, which pits both men against at-large opponents at the top of the ballot.

After a yellow-and-black robotic dog delivered flutes of champagne for Kemp and top Hyundai executives to make a celebratory toast, officials joined other dignitaries in picking up the nudges to turn ceremonial glasses of mud. Afterwards, Kemp and Warnock shook hands briefly.

“Frankly, I’d like to see more of that kind of cooperation,” said Warnock, whose race against Republican Herschel Walker will help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. “At the end of the day, we want to see more jobs in Georgia.”

Kemp, who faced an Election Day rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams, worked with state and local officials to lure Hyundai to Georgia with the package 1.8 billion dollars in tax benefits and incentives.

President Joe Biden has also identified increasing production and sales of electric vehicles in the US as a key part of his strategy to slow climate change and create manufacturing jobs. The White House recently announced $2.8 billion in grants to increase production of electric vehicle batteries in 12 states.

The expanded Climate and Health Act, passed by congressional Democrats in August, also includes incentives for the production and purchase of electric vehicles, including tax credits for electric vehicle buyers up to $7,500.

However, the tax credit has put some strain on Hyundai’s relationship with Washington. Congressional changes to the tax credit limit eligibility to electric vehicles made in North America. This means that Hyundai’s electric vehicles will no longer meet the requirements until the company begins production in Georgia.

South Korea’s ambassador to the United States told dignitaries at an event Tuesday that his country believes a revised electric car tax credit unfairly excludes Hyundai as it commits to expanding electric car production in America.

“Korean companies now risk being disadvantaged by tax credits for electric vehicles,” said Ambassador Tae Young Cho. “I think it’s not good for the Korean partnership, it’s not good for the state of Georgia, it’s not even good for the overall cause of climate change by limiting consumer choice.”

Warnock voted in favor of the Inflation Relief Act, which contained a revised tax credit. He defends the law as a whole, saying it shows the U.S. is serious about investing in electric vehicles. Meanwhile, he introduced a bill that would push back the effective date of the tax credit changes. He also asked the Ministry of Finance to use “Maximum flexibility” in rulemaking to implement the new criteria.

“I will continue to work with Ambassador Cho, as well as other officials, to do everything I can to build on what has already been a clear win,” Warnock said after Tuesday’s ceremony.

While Georgia officials celebrated the Hyundai project, the state’s other big deal for a $5 billion electric car plant east of Atlanta faced deeper problems.

Electric truck maker Rivian announced hiring plans last year 7500 workers in Georgia. But Judge of Morgan County last month rejected a local government plan to exempt Rivian from about $700 million in property taxes, with the company agreeing to pay $300 million in lieu of taxes. State and local officials are reviewing the appeal of the judge’s decision.

The property tax break was a major part of $1.2 billion in incentives offered to California-based automaker Rivian, whose stock has fallen sharply this year and recently announced a large withdraw to tighten a loose fastener that may affect the driver’s ability to drive.

Asked Tuesday if he thought the Rivian plant in Georgia would still happen, Kemp said, “I’m very confident.”

“The vast majority of people want the Rivian project to happen,” the governor said, adding, “We’re excited about the entire electric vehicle market here in Georgia.”

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