In Nashville, a snapshot of an EV moment happening everywhere


NASHVILLE — Automotive News held a satellite gathering of its annual Congress here last week, and besides being a reporter’s dream of interesting news and eye-opening conversations, the event also served as a snapshot of how electrification is truly altering the North American auto landscape.

Nashville was never the “center” of anything automotive. Let’s start there. Detroit has always been and always will be the capital of U.S. automotive. Long live Detroit.

But last week, as the audience at the Automotive News Congress heard General Motors President Mark Reuss talk about the big investments the automaker is making in advanced electric vehicle batteries south of Nashville in Spring Hill, Tenn.; as we heard Nissan Americas Chairperson Jeremie Papin talk about Nissan’s outlook for increased U.S. EV production and its upcoming decisions on a battery supply chain; as we heard Jamie Zinser, vice president for global automotive sales and marketing at aluminum supplier Novelis, talk about the significant new investments Novelis is making in capacity north of Nashville in Guthrie, Ky., and in South Alabama — a move driven in large part by the expected growth in demand for aluminum for EVs — something became obvious: The transition to electrification is everywhere.

Not just in Michigan, but also in Michigan. Not just in the Nashville environs, but also there. And in Kentucky and Georgia and Ontario, and in Texas and California, in Illinois and South Carolina.

Converting from internal-combustion cars and crossovers and pickups to EVs of all descriptions is a geography-neutral phenomenon. Automakers must invest billions in new factories, and they’re doing it all over the map.

Nissan is now talking about a third U.S. plant to accommodate EVs. Hyundai is preparing for a new U.S. EV plant. Ford is putting massive new plants in Tennessee and Kentucky. Tesla just opened its new plant in Texas, and Rivian is bringing EV manufacturing to North Georgia with a $5 billion project.

On their heels, as sure as the sun shines, will be their necessary new supply chains. Battery plants are already taking shape at a cost of staggering amounts. One battery plant costs more than two or three new-vehicle plants, so putting one somewhere takes a whole lot of economic development work, undeveloped-site planning, work force recruitment and training, and the relocation of management and engineering personnel. And that wave is really just getting started.

The fact of the matter is that, in the years ahead, every time you read that an automaker intends to construct an EV assembly line — wherever it is — chances are there will have to be another EV battery project announced to make it possible. And that will mean more locations with more big industrial sites in more towns where land is plentiful, requiring more workers, more supply bases, more service companies, more engineering consultants, new office parks to house them, new restaurants to feed the workers, new houses for them to live in, new schools for their children and more children growing up at least being aware of the allure of the auto industry.

That was the snapshot that came into focus last week in Nashville. Not that the industrialization of EVs is occurring just here or there — but that it’s occurring all around us and all at once.