The South Carolina automotive industry, even with the impact of COVID-19, is looking up, Amy Tinsley, executive director of the SC Automotive Council told a group investors at a recent Upstate SC Alliance’s monthly Coffee & Conversation event.
Tinsley said the automotive industry brings in $27 billion in annual investment to the state, and over the past 10 years, the growth rate in the state has topped out at 186.1%, compared with the Southeast’s already healthy 83.9% over the same time period.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” she said.
However, the state has experienced some of the same issues affecting other industries, like the lingering threat of COVID-19, problems finding workers and the semiconductor shortage. While pre-COVID rates were hovering around 17 million vehicles sold in the U.S., the number dropped to 16 million in 2020. Because of the semiconductor shortage, the number dropped again to a projected 13.5 million for 2021.
Tinsley said a number of national and global firms were addressing the shortage, but industry experts expect the semiconductor shortage to continue to affect production into 2022 — and possibly 2023.
Another major issue affecting the auto industry is the shift toward electric vehicles. While in the past, the industry has experimented with new internal-combustion engines, nearly all automakers, including those with a strong presence within South Carolina, are looking at EV. In addition, there will be a shift toward automated, connected and shared vehicles.
As technology advances, including adding charging locations and developing more efficient batteries, Tinsley sees the percentage of electric vehicles increasing greatly.
There is also pending legislation at both the state and federal level, like adding charging stations, improving semiconductor manufacturing and reducing foreign tariffs, that are making the switch easier on consumers. However, she noted there are a number of challenges to overcome, like the incompatibility with different manufacturers’ chargers.
“It’s an evolution, not a revolution,” Tinsley said.