The UAW is on a strike for better wages amidst claims that EV manufacturing will be disastrous for the American auto industry. We look into the data behind the claims and the future of manufacturing electric vehicles in the US
Fig. 1: The US UAW strike is primarily about wages and working hours but also factors into the country’s plans for EV manufacturing | Image: WBUR
The newest flashpoint in US politics centres around clean energy and EV jobs which the opposition claims will be disastrous for the American workers. Spearheading the charge against the Biden government is Donald Trump. His assertion is that the US’s switch to clean energy and especially electric vehicles is not creating new jobs and that the UAW (Union of Auto Workers) will be far better off if it sticks to traditional IC engined-vehicles.
The messaging aimed at the UAW is significant as it holds a lot of power when it comes to electing the country’s President. Joe Biden was in Michigan on September 26 to support the union’s demand for a 40% increase in pay and shorter working hours. A large section of the US’s auto manufacturing happens to be in the “rust belt” – the auto-manufacturing hub of the country comprising five north-eastern states – and the workers are protesting against the three biggest car manufacturers: GM, Ford and Chrysler.
While Biden’s support for the UAW and Trump’s anti-EV messaging may be politically motivated, the pushback on electric vehicle manufacturing in the US is not grounded in facts. A recent paper from Carnegie Mellon University shows that despite having far fewer components overall, it takes longer hours to manufacture EV powertrain components than for ICEV parts. This implies that a focussed expansion of electric vehicle manufacturing jobs will generate more jobs than it replaces. In fact another report found that EV jobs grew by 26.8% in a year in the US as opposed to a mere 1.6% increase for ICE vehicles.
The pushback has so far focussed on how American workers are being led towards an impossible situation under the Biden government’s 2030 target of 50% new vehicle sales from EVs alone. The target expands to 67% by 2032, and saw concerns raised by all the major players in the US auto industry.. They asserted that because the US imports almost all of its li-ion EV batteries from China – worth 637,396 tonnes in 2022 – it would expose the country to unfair trade practices and monopolisation.
Fig. 2: Quarterly US li-ion battery imports | Image: S&P Global
Also, for many years the Republican party has used messaging that goes against industry data on EVs. Its biggest claim about EVs was that they were not safe and were implied to be less capable of integrating with the average American’s use of the automobile. Tesla’s 5-star safety ratings contradicts the claim, and since then other EV manufacturers, such as Volvo, Audi, VW and Mercedes-Benz, have all launched EVs with stellar safety ratings. The recent shortages in semiconductor chips also seems to be easing off in a positive move for US EV manufacturers.
Fig. 3: Tesla’s Model 3 is one of the safest vehicles ever built with 5-star crash test ratings across North America, Europe and Australia | Image: Electrek
Most importantly, the US is expected to lead the world in EV battery production by 2030. The Biden government’s Inflation Reduction Act (announced in 2022) in part aims to boost domestic production of automobiles in the country and with the 2030 plan in place for now, the US has seen around $210 billion in investments. Most of it is slated to pour in by 2028.
Fig. 4: EV investments announced by region | Image: NRDC
The interest has been so strong that the EU is reportedly concerned about losing auto makers to the US. Toyota has already announced a battery manufacturing facility in North Carolina that is scheduled to go online 2025 and $54 billion are expected to be spent across the US to build 37 battery manufacturing plants in total.
Fig. 5: Battery manufacturing capacities planned across the US by 2030 | Image: Batteries News
Therefore the pushback against EV manufacturing may grab news headlines, but the data shows that EVs have generated several times more new jobs, but are also attracting massive amounts of investments. Whether the demand for a 40% pay increase is approved remains to be seen, but it’s quite evident that the US’s transition to electric vehicles is yielding some much-needed progress where it matters.