Electric cars represent a significant step toward reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and carbon emissions that scientists say are beginning to cause serious destruction in the world.
About 1 million workers are employed in automobile production, primarily for vehicles with internal combustion engines, of about 12.8 million production jobs. But analysts note that electric vehicles require significantly less manpower, raising questions about how the upcoming shift could slim down such a critical part of the US economy.
Electric vehicles raise a whole host of questions for autoworkers. The simplicity of the vehicles means that they require significantly less labor to make and assemble: Chevy Bolt, for example, had 80 percent fewer moving parts than comparable fuel engines, UBS analysts have found. Their production is easier and easier. 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 see them as Legos ̵
1; you kind of bolt them together. You may need even less skill to assemble these cars," said Karl Brauer , an automotive industry analyst who is the executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.
The car driver has not been shy about these changes.
Ford executives told investors that electric cars could reduce the company's working hours per car by 30 percent, and capital investment by 50 percent. Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess said the switch "means we need to cut positions."
"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 connecting electric battery and fuel-cell vehicles to make up the rest, according to a forecast made by the Center for Automotive Research in an upcoming 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, has 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 enormous consequences."
Compounding the problem from a job perspective is that many electric car batteries are manufactured by companies in Europe and Asia. The electric Mustangs will be assembled in Mexico using a battery pack that will be made in Poland.
While European authorities have spent time and money investigating how to grow supply chains for electric vehicle components, the United States car market continues to revolve around internal combustion engines.
Even recognizing the existence of climate change is still a political sensibility in conservative quarters. Ford's marketing materials for the Mustang highlighted the power and acceleration, and not the sustainability, for example.
Michelle Hill, vice president of management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, pointed to data her company had crushed showing that for each percentage increase in the electric vehicle's share, there were 185,000 fewer engines and gearboxes. With an estimated 15 to 25 percent of the market share, electric vehicles could mean a decline of 18,000 to 29,000 production jobs.
Then there is the question of the quality of jobs in electric car production.
The unions have helped ensure that American car companies are home to stable middle-class jobs, many of them in economically challenged areas across the Midwest. But tech companies and startup companies that make electric batteries don't give the same story.
"If these new employers have a bad history of working conditions, or if they treat EV components as low-value commodity products, it could result in more under-road production and undermine job quality in the automotive sector," United Auto Workers noted in a report on electric vehicles earlier this year.
GM sold a shutter in Lordstown, Ohio, to a startup of electric pickup earlier this month – ending a discussion that had animated negotiations during the recent UAW strike that stopped production at General Motors for nearly six weeks.
At this facility, workers who were hired – or exercised – would make about $ 17 an hour, according to media reports, significantly below the roughly $ 30 an hour earned by many General Motors workers.
The company also agreed to keep a new General Motors plant open had been scheduled for closure next year to produce electric cars, Hamtramck.
Chris Viola, an assembly worker there, said that a significant number of workers had gone to 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's a donor and not just something we try and don't pan."
Because of this, United Auto Workers has urged policy makers and other stakeholders to become more involved in the planning of electric car technology.  Rohan G. Williamson, professor of finance at Georgetown University, said that major automakers will have to reinvent themselves and the workforce.
"You're going to need a more technologically advanced workforce," Williamson said. "If you look at the traditional car assembly system, it's 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 some training beyond high school.
Meanwhile, he said, vehicle assembly will become more skilled work, drawing a workforce that was not brought up in the traditional trade union environment.
is a challenge because the view of the worker's worker is going to be more than a capable computer, he says. "I think there will be some challenges for unions in an environment where you have electric cars that are assembled more by computer programmers."