Or at least that’s what AutoBlogGreen recently asked, vis-Ã -vis the impact of electric cars on manufacturing jobs, and car repair facilities everywhere. It’s a good question to be sure, but they seem to be off in a few respects. For starters, they say ” … the thousand of individuals that make their livings devising and repairing the inner-workings of the automobile are reportedly worried about their job prospects.”
First off, the people that assemble cars are not machinists. People that work in assembly plants are skilled laborers, but they don’t have the training or skill of a machinist. It’s a totally different thing. Neither are people that work in garages machinists. I have nothing but respect for people that car remove a tranny, send it out for a rebuild and put it back in and have it run flawlessly. I can’t do that. But doing a tranny R&R is not nearly the same has having someone hand you some dimensional drawings and a piece on Inconel stock and saying they need it by closing time.
There, now that we gotten that out of the way, what about electric cars and service jobs?
Remember when GM made that electric car, the Impact? Greenies jumped all over it, and they were screaming for GM to produce it – all in all a pretty damn good idea that GM SHOULD have done back when, but no, they didn’t – and when GM killed the Impact, greenies screamed bloody murder and put out tin-foil tinged movies like “Who Killed The Electric Car?”
I remember when the Impact came and went, and I asked several friends in the auto industry, people who worked in Detroit, ran shops, raced, worked on race teams … those kinds of guys. Y’know, gearheads. And their answer, almost to a man, to the question of “Who Killed The Electric Car?” was simple and direct:
“Dealership repair guys.”
The problem, as pointed out in the ABG piece, is pretty simple and obvious if you think about it.
Electric cars are really, really simple. They are, to a certain extent, about as simple as a toaster. Now, when I was a kid, there WAS places around town that did ‘small appliance repair’, and fixed things like toasters and what not. You don’t see many of those kinds of places around anymore, mainly because manufacturers got the cost down and the reliability so far up, that when your $24 dollar toaster oven form Target craps out after 7 years of faultless service, you simply throw it away.
The same boundary conditions exist for electric cars, potentially. There’s not as many moving parts in an EV, and the bits and pieces that are there, are fairly simple. You don’t really have to ever rebuild a drive motor, say, you simply remove it and put in a new working unit. It’s like changing a more complex light bulb. And it’s even worse in the case of an EV motor, because they last a lot longer than a light bulb, so their replacement intervals are further apart.
So when you say a phrase like, “Virtually maintenance free!”, it sounds great to a consumer, but to the assistant manager of the maintenance department at the local car dealer, it sounds like his doctor just uttered the word “Cancer”.
I remember talking to a friend of a friend back in the early 90s that was co-owner of a dealership. He stated flat out that “The majority of our profits come from the maintenance department, not from the margin we make on selling new cars. It’s like a movie theater, where they make most of their money from popcorn and soda sales.” Since then, I had that reiterated to me numerous times.
So along comes GM, or any other car manufacturer for that matter, and they say, “LOOK! It’s our new ELECTRIC CAR! You just have to plug it in. And another cool thing? The maintenance is only 20% of what a gas engined car is!”
Greenies and EV fans cheer, and guys that run shops say, “Great, now I got to fire 80% of my staff.”