Toyota slams Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow for saying Japanese automaker not part of ‘home team’

Editor’s note: This report has been clarified to reflect the small portion of Toyota Motor North America workers who are unionized.

Toyota Motor North America has fired back at a Michigan senator for suggesting at an event attended by President Joe Biden in a General Motors plant in Detroit that the automaker — which employs about 2,000 people in Michigan — was not part of the “home team” because it is largely not unionized.

In an unsigned internal memo called “Fast Facts” distributed Thursday to the Japanese automaker’s 38,000 employees in the U.S. via email and shared with Automotive News, Toyota said Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow “directly attacked Toyota for fighting back on her discriminatory proposal. This was an unprecedented attack, including accusations that were false and hypocritical.”

Stabenow on Wednesday defended a controversial $4,500 additional tax credit for consumers who purchase an EV made in a unionized U.S. plant — a proposal spearheaded by herself and Democratic Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee and endorsed by Biden.

Fresh off the passing of a bipartisan federal infrastructure bill that includes funding for EV chargers and upgrades to the nation’s electric grid, Stabnow and the president were speaking at GM’s Factory Zero EV plant in Detroit to an audience of largely of UAW members.

“I think it takes a lot of nerve for an auto company based in Japan, where they make it almost impossible for us to sell to them in Japan, where they receive government funding and consumer rebates in Japan, where they have a union labor force in Japan — in fact, everywhere except in America, by the way, where they fight tooth and nail against Americans who tried to organize — it takes a lot of nerve for them to fight our effort to have a consumer bonus for buying vehicles made by the United Auto Workers,” Stabenow told the audience to applause. “So I call this I call this just leveling the playing field, and I’m committed to supporting the home team and leading this effort in the Senate.”

The union-built EV tax credit provision — part of the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act — faces an uphill battle in the evenly split Senate, where it is opposed by Republicans and moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, which is home to a key Toyota engine and transmission plant.

In the email, which has been verified by a company spokesman, Toyota said it “believes that the future of mobility is electric and we support incentives that make the cost of EVs more affordable to consumers.” But it also said Stabenow “does not view the 2,000 Toyota team members in Michigan as part of the home team. Nor does she view the 38,000-plus Americans across the country who directly support their families by working at Toyota as part of the ‘home team.'”

Toyota operates two large research and engineering centers near Ann Arbor, Mich., and has employees elsewhere in Michigan. Its large U.S.  assembly and components plants are not unionized. A small portion of its workers are unionized, fewer than 1,000 people. They are primarily in its logistics operations and parts distribution centers, with workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and some port workers are represented by the International Longshoremen’s Association. 

The Japanese automaker, which has led efforts to kill the union-built EV credit alongside other international manufacturers including American Honda and Volkswagen Group of America, told its employees: “Rest assured that we will not be intimidated by Senator Stabenow — nor anyone else who treats our American workforce as second-class. Your work to build a zero-carbon future is no less valuable than that of any other American autoworker.”

The company also says it doesn’t “believe the government should discriminate against fully half of all U.S. autoworkers simply because they have decided not to join the UAW.”

A spokesman for Toyota said the company had no further comment beyond what was in the email.

Stabenow responded to the Toyota memo in an emailed statement to Automotive News, saying:

“Instead of bullying its workers here in the U.S., in its next note to employees Toyota should explain why union wages and benefits are good enough for its workers in Japan but not here in America. Perhaps the National Labor Relations Board should examine this message as potential worker intimidation through coercive statements to its American workers.”