Electric cars represent a significant step toward reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say are beginning to wreak serious havoc in the world.
About 1 million workers were employed in car manufacturing, mainly for vehicles with internal combustion engines, of about 12.8 million manufacturing jobs. But analysts note that electric vehicles require significantly less manpower, which raises questions about how the upcoming shift may narrow such a critical part of the US economy.
Electric vehicles raise a lot of questions for autoworkers. The simplicity of vehicles means that they require significantly less labor to manufacture and assemble: Chevy Bolt, for example, had 80 percent fewer moving parts than comparable fuel engines, UBS analysts have found. Their production is simpler and straightforward. And the parts they use are now often made overseas.
"It may be that the cars become so modular and the assembly process becomes so straightforward [that] that you imagine them as Legos ̵
1; you kind of bolt them together. You may need even less skill to put these cars together, ”said Karl Brauer, an automotive industry analyst who is the managing editor of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.
Auto executives have not been shy about these changes.
Ford executives told investors that electric vehicles could reduce the company's working hours per car by 30 percent and its capital investment by 50 percent. Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess said the switch "means we will have to make job cuts."
"Achieving this purely through fluctuations and partial retirement will be difficult," he said.
About 95 percent of cars in North America still use internal combustion engines, but the number is expected to decline sharply in the coming decades. By 2030, these cars could make up just over 50 percent of the market, with hybrids joining electric battery and fuel cell-powered vehicles to make up the rest, according to a forecast by the Center for Automotive Research in a forthcoming report. By 2040, the number of cars powered by internal combustion engines could fall to 30 percent, the Center estimates.
Electric vehicles make up only about 2 percent of the market globally. But it is a growing niche. Tesla, the leading manufacturer of electric cars, sold 360,000 cars this year so far.
"Electrification is really starting to take hold," said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of the Center for Automotive Research. "It has huge consequences."
Unifying the issue from a job perspective is that many electric batteries are produced by companies in Europe and Asia. The electric Mustangs will be mounted in Mexico using a battery pack that will be manufactured in Poland.
While European governments have spent time and money exploring how to grow supply chains for electric vehicle components, the US car market continues to revolve around internal combustion engines.
Even acknowledging that there are climate change is still a political sensibility in conservative neighborhoods. Ford's marketing materials for the Mustang highlighted its power and acceleration, and not its durability, for example.
Michelle Hill, Vice President of the business consulting firm Oliver Wyman, pointed to data her company had crushed that showed that for every percentage point increase in the market for electric vehicles, 185,000 fewer engines and gearboxes. At a projected 15 to 25 percent of the market share, electric vehicles can mean a reduction of 18,000 to 29,000 manufacturing jobs.
Then it is the question of the quality of jobs in electric car manufacturing.
Trade unions have helped to ensure that American car companies have stable middle-class jobs, many of them in economically challenged areas throughout the West. But tech companies and start-ups that create electric batteries don't give the same story.
"If these new employers have a bad history of manufacturing labor relations, or if they treat EV components as low-value commodity products, could lead to more production under low-road conditions, undermining the quality of work in the automotive sector," United Auto Workers noted in an electric vehicle report earlier this year.
GM sold a shutter in Lordstown, Ohio, to an electric pickup startup earlier this month – the end of a discussion that had animated negotiations during the recent UAW strike that stopped production at General Motors For nearly six weeks.
At that facility, workers hired – or rehearsed – will make about $ 17 an hour, according to media reports, significantly below the approximately $ 30 an hour that many General Motors workers earned.
also agreed to keep another General Motors plant open had been planned for closure next year to produce electric cars, Hamtramck.
Chris Viola, a parish worker there, said that a significant number of workers had left for work elsewhere because of the planned closure, but said those still working there were grateful that they were able to keep their jobs.
"Most people are just happy that we have a product coming in," he said. "I hope it is a money maker and not just something we try and do not lose."
Because of this, United Auto Workers has urged politicians and other stakeholders to become more involved in the planning of electric vehicle technology.  Rohan G. Williamson, professor of economics at Georgetown University, said that major automakers will need to reinvent themselves and their workforce.
"You will need a more technologically advanced workforce," Williamson said. "If you look at the traditional car assembly system, it will be much more about programming a machine to do a lot of that work."
As a result, he said, large car manufacturers will have fewer and fewer jobs that can be done without at least a little training past high school.
In the meantime, he said, vehicle assembly will become more highly skilled work, and draw a workforce that was not built in the traditional union environment.
"It will be a challenge because the view of the labor assembly plant worker will be more of a skilled data guy," he said. "