TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — When General Motors boldly announced its goal last month to make only battery-powered vehicles by 2035, it didn’t just break from more than a century of internal combustion engines. It also clouded the future for 50,000 GM workers whose jobs could become obsolete far sooner than they knew.
The message was clear: As a greener US economy edges closer, GM wants a factory workforce that will build only zero-emissions vehicles.
It won’t happen overnight. But the likelihood is growing that auto workers who for decades built machines that run on petroleum will need to do different work in the next decade — or they might not have jobs.
If the history-making shift from internal combustion to electric power goes as GM, Ford and others envision, jobs that now make pistons and fuel injectors will be supplanted by the assembly of battery packs and electric motors.
Many of those components are now built overseas. But President Joe Biden has made development of a US electric vehicle supply chain a key part of his plan to create 1 million auto industry jobs with electric vehicles.
Yet for auto workers, that future could be perilous. Factories will need fewer workers, mainly because electric vehicles contain 30% to 40% fewer moving parts than petroleum-run vehicles. In addition, many union jobs could shift to lower pay as automakers buy EV parts from supply companies or form separate ventures to build components.
Most vulnerable in the transition will be roughly 100,000 workers at plants that make transmissions and engines for gas and diesel vehicles.
They are people like Stuart Hill, one of 1,500 workers at GM’s Toledo Transmission Plant in Ohio. At 38 years old and a GM employee for five years, Hill is decades from retirement and worries about the plant’s future.