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The future of the auto industry is electric. Will mechanics be out of work?

Effects of the shift to electric vehicles
What the shift to electric vehicles means for the auto industry, mechanics 03:52

The future of the American auto industry is electric — President Joe Biden has committed to making two-thirds of all new cars in the U.S. electric vehicles (EVs) by 2032, and major manufacturers, including General Motors, have announced that they'll stop making internal combustion engine vehicles entirely by 2035. This evolution won't just affect drivers, but also the mechanics who fix the next generation of cars. 

Fewer parts to fix on EVs means lower maintenance 

"[Electric vehicles are] going to starve a lot of people out of this industry," predicted Sam Cicinelli, a former automotive technician and union official for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. 

In large part, that's because EVs tend to need much less repair. According to AAA, traditional vehicles on average cost $949 a year to maintain, while electric vehicles cost $330 less.

There are fewer parts to fix on an EV. A car with an internal combustion engine is made up of 33,000 moving parts, but an EV has just 13,000. EVs don't have oil to change or oil filters to replace. And there are no cooling systems to keep an engine from overheating, since there's no engine. EV brakes still need to be replaced, but not as often as traditional cars. 

What happens to jobs for auto mechanics?

In the short term, not much is happening to these jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts "little or no change" from 2021 to 2031 for automotive service technicians. 

But change is coming. The bureau offers no hope for growth in this specific field, predicting that there won't be many new openings — most of the vacancies will be to replace workers leaving the industry. The "increasing prevalence of electric vehicles," it says, "may limit future demand" for mechanics.

California, the state with the largest number of automotive technicians and 39% of all EVs in the U.S, has begun to see the effects of EVs on these jobs. Since 2014, the number of licensed independent auto shops in the state has dropped by more than 13%. 

Longer warranties on EVs

Dave Kusa, owner of AutoTrend Diagnostics in Campbell, Calif., said shops are going out of business not just because EVs create fewer service opportunities, but also because they're sold with hefty warranties. 

A Ford F-150, the most popular car in the U.S., comes with a 3-year/36,000 mile warranty. Thanks to federal law, new electric vehicles come with an 8-year/100,000 mile warranty specifically for the battery, which costs $4,000 to $20,000 to replace. This means EV owners fix their cars at dealerships, not at independent shops.

Retooling the trade

Electric vehicles need some of the same maintenance as internal combustion engine cars, like replacing transmission fluid and rotating the tires, but the majority of the service on EVs requires an understanding of computer programming more than nuts and bolts — meaning mechanics will need to be retrained. 

And not all industry veterans are willing to go along for the ride to an EV future.

"A lot of people are resistant to change because they have to learn a whole new skill set," said David Favre, dean of transportation at Wake Tech, North Carolina's largest community college. 

"Older technicians are just not that interested in making that change and retooling their toolbox," he added. 

Wake Tech is a part of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium, a group of high schools, community colleges and trade schools based out of West Virginia University working to help students train for a green economy. 

Favre says an introduction to electric vehicles class is now mandatory for all transportation students at Wake Tech, and about 1 in 4 choose to continue EV-specific training. 

Students with EV training are highly sought after, usually by EV manufacturers, said Trina Wafle, the training consortium's interim director.

These highly skilled workers are often paid more than traditional technicians, which Wafle hopes will attract young people who want to work in tech in green jobs; especially women who are traditionally far outnumbered in the field. 

Still, Favre said while the consortium is seeing young people gravitate toward EVs, internal combustion cars will still be on the roads and needing repairs for decades to come. 

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