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EVs Challenge Auto-Workers and Grid

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The United Automobile Workers at General Motors are upset. Last week, some 46,000 of them walked off the factory floors to start striking. Their grievances include a recently closed plant they want re-opened, and other job cuts related to the discontinuation of numerous models that will be replaced with electric vehicles. How do job cuts relate to a broad EV push? Basically, batteries and electric engines are much simpler than internal combustion engines, thus necessitate less labor. A recently published study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO found that even moderate adoption of EVs could result in 75,000 Germans losing their jobs. Hyundai’s auto union chief, Ha Bu-young, summed up general fear of auto workers during an interview with Reuters: “electric cars are disasters. They are evil. We are very nervous.” There’s no reason to believe the consequences would be any less dire state side. 

Signs of the coming EV revolution can be found outside the anxieties of auto worker unions. A New York Times article a few weeks ago documented Cadillac’s plan to retake the luxury car market they once dominated with a line of new EVs. Unfortunately for them, however, other companies are already far ahead: Tesla, obviously, but also most high-end European makes. 

If seemingly the entire auto-industry, from factory workers to top executives, foresees EVs becoming common in the near future (3-5 years), then shouldn’t cities, in conjunction with utilities, be revamping grids and throwing down charging stations? Of course, some of them are. Xcel and various Colorado municipalities seem to be more progressive than most, for example. However, it does still seem that EV adoption may outpace the necessary infrastructure changes in most regions. If that’s the case, there’s sure to be a day of reckoning, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 23, 2019 9:06 pm GMT

If seemingly the entire auto-industry, from factory workers to top executives, foresees EVs becoming common in the near future (3-5 years), then shouldn’t cities, in conjunction with utilities, be revamping grids and throwing down charging stations? 

Agree with you here, but at the same time your setup has me worried about these car companies. Are they doing enough to prepare their workers for the inevitability of the shift in the auto industry? The fact that they are striking and are trying to push back seems short-sighted-- should it be the role of those automakers to bake in the cost to retrain or prepare in another way these workers for the new auto industry? Will there be a jobs issue more widely in this respect that requires some sort of government intervention, similar to programs that are trying to help coal country transition to a new economy where coal can no longer be counted on as king? 

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