Competition between the United States and China in the realms of electric and autonomous vehicles could determine the future control of global supply chains in an unprecedented way, according to a lawmaker and several experts.
“Our competitors, particularly in China, are not holding back,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) during an April 27 event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a security-focused think tank.
“We cannot fall behind on the global stage.”
Peters said that the future of the automotive industry was in electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs), and that the nation to best develop those industries would win a great advantage in the global marketplace.
To that end, former Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair noted that both EVs and AVs were singled out in Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” industrial plan as part of its top 10 high-tech areas to seize leadership in. This, he said, demonstrated a clear effort to displace the United States as the lead controller of global supply chains and the international industrial ecosystem.
“If the United States loses full spectrum industrial capacity in the automotive industry, and this means designing the cars, testing them, building them, fixing them, the whole ecosystem, then we are hollowing out the industrial sector that we counted on to become the arsenal of democracy in the second world war,” Blair said.
“The big picture is China’s all-of-government push and the importance of the automotive sector to American industrial capability.”
Blair added that the ongoing technological decoupling of China from the rest of the world in terms of its data and systems standards would prove a vital component of how Sino-American competition in the sector unfolded.
“This sort of decoupling of the Chinese economy from the rest of the world is something you need to watch in this space,” Blair said.
“It may be that separate AI [artificial intelligence] industries and AV technologies grow up in China and the rest of the world.”
John Bozzella, President of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, agreed that China could effectively seize control of vital supply chains by seizing industrial prominence in EV and AV technologies, thus pushing the United States out of access to vital technologies.
“The countries that really take the lead in developing cutting edge innovative technologies in the auto sector are going to control the supply chains, set the standards, set the running rules, and really own global markets,” Bozzella said.
“With regard to EVs, you see the U.S. industry already behind China because we’re competing with a national effort,” Bozzella added.
With that in mind, Bozzella suggested that the United States would need to better unite the powers of its private industry with a national strategy, and work to develop the utilities and infrastructure needed to transition its industrial base to produce EV and AV technologies.
“The China story does suggest that this private sector leadership ought to be supported by a national strategy,” Bozzella said.
“We are competing with the Chinese government, not the Chinese auto manufacturers.”