Want A Job In The Auto Industry? Forget Internal Combustion

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Auto industry jobs centered around “traditional” powertrains are on the decline, electric SUVs are our future and a coup may be underway at the United Auto Workers. All this and more for The Morning Shift of Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.

1st Gear: The Jobs Will Reflect The Future Of The Car Industry

Despite being handsomely profitable, General Motors slashed thousands of jobs this year. It wasn’t the only automaker to do so. But GM is still hiring in many areas, provided you have the skills and know-how to develop electric and self-driving vehicles.

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Jobs for traditional, internal combustion engines and transmissions are starting to decline as automakers invest in the future, per this report from The Detroit Free Press:

GM has been significantly realigning its workforce composition and the skills engineers will need, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Navigant Research in metro Detroit.

“We saw a significant reduction, especially in people working in powertrain, traditional engineering,” said Abuelsamid. “It hasn’t really kicked in on the hourly side yet, but it has on the salary side, and that’s a leading indicator of what’s going on.”

Navigant Research predicts 15% of global car sales will be electric vehicles by 2030. Automakers such as GM are pursuing electric because of regulatory concerns, especially in China, the world’s largest car market, which is pushing electrification, said Abuelsamid.

Abuelsamid said 15% is not a big number, but the impact on workers will be big, particularly at engine and transmission plants.

Over the next decade each engine or transmission plant that gets replaced by an electric motor or battery plant may see up to a 75% reduction from today’s manufacturing jobs or morph into new blue-collar jobs requiring different skills as electric vehicle production increases, said Abuelsamid.

“These electric vehicles will have simple, single-speed reduction gears. It’s a simple one-speed transmission rather than a 10-speed,” said Abuelsamid. “The engine assembly is a fairly complex process today. But for batteries and electric motors, the assembly process is highly automated. So you’ll have a lot fewer people involved in the engine and powertrains.”

GM has openly said it sees the future as all-electric. It’s not alone.

Volkswagen has said the next generation of its internal combustion engines will likely be the last as it focuses heavily on EVs. BMW is paring down its engine offerings as it adds electrification almost across the board. Pick an automaker, any automaker. They all have an EV strategy of some kind.

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Of course, as that story notes, this future could very well mean fewer workers at these companies—EVs are simpler and don’t require nearly as much in the way of labor, engineers and parts to build. This came up during the UAW contract negotiations this year; the union wants to save jobs, but the automakers say those jobs may not be as needed in the future as they are today. Expect that to be an ongoing concern for both parties.

In the meantime, if you want to work in auto engineering and manufacturing, here’s what you should aim for:

GM’s “Vision Zero” underpins its electrification and autonomous vehicle push. It means GM is working toward a future of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.

Until then, GM will continue to recruit new talent with the skills to get it to “Vision Zero.” It is looking at talent from other industries such as defense and telecommunications and through competitions at engineering schools such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said Kelzer.

That’s now noticed at the colleges, said Patrick Currier, associate professor and associate chair at Embry-Riddle.

“This competition series is probably the single best way to get a job in the auto industry,” said Currier.

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2nd Gear: ‘EVs And SUVs As Far As The Eye Can See’

I say “future,” but in reality, we’re already here. As Henry Payne at The Detroit News notes, the ongoing LA Auto Show is where you’ll find three things: EVs, crossovers and EV crossovers. And the thing is, they’re more exciting than they used to be. Gone are the days of little commuter electrics and “compliance vehicles.” The people want speed and luxury!

Introducing its electric Mustang-badged SUV Sunday night, Ford let a dirty industry word out of the bag: “compliance vehicle.” That’s something the automaker did not want the Mach-E to be.

As global emissions standards have grown more stringent over the last 20 years, automakers have electrified vehicles by adding batteries and motors to existing vehicle platforms in order to comply with government rules. Thus the term “compliance vehicle,” a pejorative phrase rarely uttered publicly because automakers didn’t want to jinx vehicles they needed to sell.

Compliance vehicles in the Ford lineup like the Fusion Hybrid and Ford C-Max were low-volume money-losers, but gained important credits towards government emissions mandates to allow the automakers to continue to sell pickups and big SUVs in markets like California and other highly regulated states.

“We’re starting to see vehicles engineered to go beyond compliance with government regulations like the Fiat 500e that was just sold in California and Oregon,” says Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer. “Automakers like Ford and GM are making dedicated platforms for EVs. They are low-volume ‘halo’ vehicles but they benefit the company’s image.”

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As Payne notes, you can thank Tesla for that image shift. Or at least much of it.

3rd Gear: The Big Boss Man Didn’t Like The Mustang Mach-E Until He Drove It

You aren’t the only person baffled by the attachment of the Mustang name to an electric SUV. Executive Chairman Bill Ford didn’t love it either, Automotive News reports, until he drove it.

“I certainly wasn’t sold at the beginning — far from it,” Ford said on the sidelines of the vehicle’s reveal Sunday night. “They came to me and said, ‘We really think we can make this Mustang-inspired, really Mustang-like.’ I said, ‘You guys aren’t telling me you want to call this a Mustang.’ No one would say yes, but nobody would say no, either. I said, ‘No, I’m sorry, I don’t want to hurt the brand. This is not going to be a Mustang.’ “

But the team was persistent. They knew they needed the cachet of the name to woo uncertain buyers to an EV and believed they could achieve the necessary performance figures to earn the iconic badge.

[...] “When I drove it, I knew it had to be a Mustang,” Ford said. “Frankly, I was getting there before because I believed the team when they were laying all the specs out. As it evolved and I started to see the performance characteristics, not just the 0 to 60, but the handling dynamics, the driving dynamics and the styling kept evolving, at some point I realized: Yeah, this is a Mustang. The pony could go on the grille.”

Farley said Ford’s decision let the team move forward with the project, which was under a condensed time frame because the company had scrapped the vehicle’s original design.

“He’s a smart guy,” Farley said. “Driving is believing. After he got out it was double thumbs-up.”

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Bill Ford also apparently owns 35 Mustangs. I like Mustangs too, generally speaking, but do you really need that many? Like maybe three at most would suffice.

4th Gear: UAW Members Sick Of Corruption

Meanwhile, at the UAW, at least some of the members are fed up with the ongoing corruption scandals and want the current top guy gone. Here’s The Detroit News:

A group of United Auto Workers members making a second mutiny attempt against President Gary Jones has support from more than half of the union locals needed to pursue a trial against the leader to remove him from the union.

The members from Massachusetts to Tennessee are pursuing actions outlined in three UAW constitution articles. They are seeking an investigation into officials identified in a four-year federal probe into UAW corruption; removal of Jones and Vance Pearson, a member of the UAW’s executive board; and a special convention to amend the constitution for the direct election of union leaders and other reforms.

“We see that those who have reportedly put policies in place as corrective actions were actually involved with (the corruption), as well,” said Scott Houldieson, a 30-year UAW member at Ford Motor Co.’s Chicago Assembly Plant who is helping to lead the efforts. “That pushed us over. That was what tipped us over the edge to realize if the membership didn’t take action, action was not going to be taken.”

The union members emphasize that they are not anti-union, but say they are taking the democratic steps enshrined in the constitution and union lore that their leaders won’t take. Their hope is to preserve the autonomy and integrity of the UAW and to preempt a potential government takeover.

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Can the UAW avoid a government takeover like the Teamsters had for 25 years?

5th Gear: One More Electrified SUV, Please

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This isn’t quite spicy enough for its own blog, but Lincoln has added a hybrid powertrain to the Corsair, which is actually a pretty handsome little crossover. One more from Automotive News:

The Corsair GT, on sale next summer as a 2021 model, will feature a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with two electric motors. It’s expected to get 266 hp and have an all-electric range of more than 25 miles and a Lincoln-first electric all-wheel-drive system.

Lincoln unveiled the vehicle Wednesday as part of the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show.

The Grand Touring’s power specs beat the estimated 250 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque for the Corsair’s standard 2.0-liter engine, but they come in short of the upgraded 2.3-liter engine with a targeted 295 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque.

By positioning the Grand Touring in the middle of its Corsair lineup from a power standpoint, Lincoln is taking a different route from its other plug-in hybrid, the Aviator Grand Touring, which is that nameplate’s most powerful variant. Brand officials say they’re targeting a different customer with Corsair, one that skews younger and more female.

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Those specs aren’t bad at all. And I’m all for hybrid powertrains in “normal” cars. Might as well drive down the cost of batteries. And it’s not like cars are getting cheaper on their own.

Reverse: Thanks, Garrett

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Neutral: When Does The EV Revolution Catch On?

Look at all these electric vehicles coming out! But they’re still a tiny fraction of the total new cars sold in America. There’s a lot of reasons for that, from infrastructure to the dealers. How and when does that change?

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About the author

Patrick George

Editor-in-Chief at Jalopnik. 2002 Toyota 4Runner.