On the surface, Kokomo, IN, might seem like any other city in the midwest. The relatively small town, with a population just shy of 60,000, has a remarkably storied past as a center of some of the earliest American technological achievements. This history isn’t uncommon for many “rustbelt” cities that made up the nation’s manufacturing backbone during early industrialization. But residents know that Kokomo’s status as the “City of Firsts” is far from unearned.
Here, some of the brightest minds in the U.S. came up with innovations like stainless steel, the first pneumatic rubber tires, and even the push-button radio. But arguably, Kokomo’s crowning achievement is one of the earliest iterations of what would soon become the four-wheel automobile.
It has been well over a century since Elwood Haynes had his first successful driving test on July 4, 1894, and Kokomo’s automotive spirit has hardly let up ever since. In 1919, it was reported that Indiana had as many as 172 companies that specialized in automotive manufacturing statewide. By 1925, it was announced that horse-drawn transportation had all but vanished from its roads and highways.
Now, Kokomo is poised to become the crown jewel of Chrysler parent company Stellantis’ electric car footprint. In a move that surprised officials in similarly eligible states like Michigan, the automotive giant recently announced that Kokomo would be the site of all U.S.-based battery manufacturing as it ventures more deeply into the electric vehicle industry.
Stellantis announced its partnership with Samsung SDI, a Samsung offshoot specializing in manufacturing batteries and related electronic materials.
The Kokomo site will see a total of $2.5 billion for constructing the electric vehicle battery plant, potentially increasing by another $600 million over the next few years, pending outside approval.
This deal comes in addition to a number of tax credits Stellantis and Samsung SDI are set to receive from the state of Indiana. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the state’s lead economic development agency, estimates the project is eligible to receive at least $190 million in conditional tax credits, training grants and other incentives. However, it is assumed within industry circles that incentives could increase depending on construction-based financing and additional funding at the county and municipal levels.
All in all, the $2.5 billion-dollar investment will create an anticipated 1,400 jobs for Indiana residents. According to Gov. Eric Holcomb, Stellantis must meet employee hiring and training standards before any incentive funding is released.
“Just under one year ago, we committed to an aggressive electrification strategy anchored by five gigafactories between Europe and North America,” says Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis. “Today’s announcement further solidifies our global battery production footprint and demonstrates Stellantis’ drive toward a decarbonized future outlined in Dare Forward 2030.”
As referenced by Tavares, Dare Forward 2030 is the comprehensive plan of gradual decarbonization across Stellantis-owned companies. It includes a pledge to allocate $35 billion to electric vehicle investments throughout a company umbrella comprising a wide variety of automotive brands like Dodge, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Ram, and Jeep.
Tavares cited company familiarity with the town as one of the deciding factors for the announcement. “We feel great in Kokomo because we have already a very significant manufacturing footprint in Kokomo. So it’s a place that we know well. We know the people, we know their skills, their talents,” Tavares said while also acknowledging the realities of competing states like Michigan now feeling left out of the party.