Electric cars: the negative impact on jobs

Electric cars: the negative impact on jobs

Electric cars

For years we have been talking about the possible negative impact that the switch to electric could have on the world of work, but now there are the first signs to tell us that this is not just a simple pessimism. Economic newspaper Nikkei Asia reached out to several car manufacturers around the world and the response was unanimous: cuts (during the energy transition) will be necessary and inevitable. This is because the change in the type of power supply is bringing a whole series of far more radical changes in the production and in the way in which the entire assembly line is developed.

Considering that an electric motor does not need all of them the mechanical parts of a thermal unit, one immediately sees how less personnel are needed to assemble it. In fact, it is estimated that only one person is needed to install an electric motor, compared to ten required for petrol or diesel. To this is added the cutting of all third parties (component suppliers) that produce mechanical elements that are no longer necessary. The so-called "pyramid" formed by component suppliers at the bottom and car manufacturers at the top is set to collapse in the next few years.

Looking at the cold numbers, Honda has already announced the closure of a factory north of Tokyo and the cutting of 900 employees. Overall, the Japanese automotive industry will lose (according to analysts' estimates) over 10% of its workforce in the switchover to electric. Moving on to Germany, where electric power plants are growing visibly, cuts of over 200,000 units are expected on approximately 600,000 total employees in the auto sector. Even with social safety nets, early retirements or other aids, not all lost positions can be recovered.

Naturally, the growth of the EV market and therefore the increased demand for electric cars could gradually eliminate the problem (thanks to the opening of new factories). But it is certain that the transition from thermal to electric production will not be painless, due to all the drastic changes it entails. It is hoped that governments and car manufacturers will be able to reduce the negative effects by avoiding the last link in the chain paying the price (as often happens).

Podcast: Promise, peril in push for electric cars

a close up of a hand holding a cellphone: A Tesla being charged in front of Harris Farms Restaurant in Coalinga, off Interstate 5. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times) © Provided by The LA Times A Tesla being charged in front of Harris Farms Restaurant in Coalinga, off Interstate 5. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

President Biden wants 40% of new cars to be electric by 2030. As automakers race to meet demand, they're setting off a mining rush worldwide from rare earth and critical metals. Cobalt, lithium, manganese and nickel here in the United States are hard to come by, but exist in sensitive habitats such as the ocean floor and Indigenous land. Now, environmentalists and activists are questioning whether electric cars are the wisest way to tackle climate change.

In this episode, we take you to the lithium mines of the western U.S. in Nevada, to the geothermal vents of California’s Salton Sea, and to the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times policy reporter Evan Halper

More reading:

California’s electric car revolution, designed to save the planet, also unleashes a toll on it

Column: I was going to buy an all-electric car but chickened out. Here’s why

Good luck getting a state rebate on your new electric car

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.