Electric vehicles may be 'the biggest change in the 100-year plus history' of the auto industry: Expert

·3-min read

Like it or not, it will soon be the end of the road for the internal combustion engine. By 2025, UBS predicts that 20% of all new cars sold globally will be electric. That number is expected to jump to about 50% by 2030, and some experts predict 100% of all new cars will be electric by 2040.

This seismic shift to electric vehicles means an uncertain future for tens of thousands of auto workers.

“This is probably the biggest change in the 100-plus-year history of the industry,” Harley Shaiken, auto expert and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told Yahoo Finance Live.

Haiken predicts tens of thousands of jobs could vanish across the car industry as automakers transition to EV, and he says the shift will impact everyone from engineers to factory workers.

“It takes fewer workers to manufacture an electric vehicle versus an internal combustion car — 30% to 40% less,” Shaiken said.

GM has vowed to make only electric vehicles by 2035, Ford said it will only sell electric vehicles in Europe by 2030, Volkswagen recently doubled its plans for its VW brand, saying by 2030, 70% of its total European vehicle sales will be battery electric.

GM and Ford said they’re already retraining employees to work on EVs as they prepare for an all-electric future. While some current auto jobs will evolve, Shaiken said the fact is EV’s require less parts, which will ultimately mean lost jobs.

A Ford Motor production worker assembles batteries for Ford electric and hybrid vehicles at the Ford Rawsonville Assembly Plant in Ypsilanti Twsp, Michigan November 7, 2012. Ford Motor Co marked on Thursday the production launch of its latest plug-in hybrid at a former SUV factory that now serves as a model for the second-largest U.S. automaker's global manufacturing strategy. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook  (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS)
A Ford Motor production worker assembles batteries for Ford electric and hybrid vehicles at the Ford Rawsonville Assembly Plant in Ypsilanti Twsp, Michigan REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

He said it will even redefine car service centers. Since electric vehicles have 10 times fewer moving parts than a gas-powered car, gone will be the need for oil changes, spark plugs, mufflers and catalytic converters.

It isn't just auto workers that are impacted by the switch to electric. Shaiken said it’s all Americans. 

“These auto jobs have historically been very highly paid jobs. And that purchasing power has gone into the economy and served to set wages in areas where you have high-paying auto factories.”

New opportunities

While the move to EV may cost some jobs, it will also create new opportunities for others.

President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure package is chock full of incentives to buy electric vehicles including tax credits and consumer rebates. It also includes plans for 500,000 electric charging stations across the country to power all those EVs.

“It's going to take a fair number of workers to build, install, and ultimately to maintain that kind of a shift," Shaiken said, adding trade could be another factor in the creation of job opportunities. 

“If more work is re-shored to the United States that is currently done today, say, in China or Mexico or elsewhere in the world, that could in turn boost employment even at a time when jobs are being reduced significantly because of the move to electric,” said Shaiken.

Alexis Christoforous is an anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.