Automakers are scrambling to build new factories focused specifically on electric vehicle production or are trying to retool current assembly lines. The United Auto Workers (UAW) union is adapting to the changing times as Detroit’s Big Three automakers expand their efforts toward electric, with battery factories and production facilities spread across the Midwest.
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GM autoworkers began learning about electric vehicle manufacturing beginning in 2015, with some employees being trained in South Korea. Although EV assembly closely mimics some gas-powered cars, including installation of doors, brakes, tires, and seats, the lithium-ion battery that powers the engine and transmission powertrain comes with of a learning curve.
Managing high-voltage and other electrical cable connections was another example of shifting from ICE production to electric vehicle production. In addition to on-the-line on-the-job training, GM also uses digital solutions so that workers have hands-on training in a virtual environment.
Earlier in the year, UAW officials expressed their desire to unionize factories as the auto industry continues to adapt to changing times. While the changes will take some getting used to, assembly line workers, their unions, and automakers have room to figure out how to coexist in the transition to electric vehicles.
Unsurprisingly, there is some concern over factory automation – and the loss of jobs, although the push towards electric vehicles may actually lead to job creation. As David Michael, communications coordinator for UAW Local 5960, said in an interview with CNBC: “Historically there has always been anxiety around job loss, but since electric vehicles have found their way into the big three [assembly plants]we understand more about them.”
Last month, GM announced plans to invest $760 million in a Toledo, Ohio, manufacturing plant that will create drive units for GM electric trucks. The automaker will continue to work with the UAW to retrain employees and further prepare them as electric vehicles remain an important priority.