Robot wars

How electric cars will charge Germany's job market

BMW startet Produktion i3
Robots can't do it all by themselves. Source: picture alliance

It’s rare to see a real live employee at the body-production building of Leipzig’s BMW plant. Orange-armed Kuka robots assemble the German automaker’s i3 and i9 electric models; gripping, lifting and bonding lightweight carbon-fiber components connected to the chassis and electric drive. Just a few human workers oversee operations. The building is relatively quiet save for the hum of working machinery.

This is the future of German electromobility production. While an electric car consists of some 200 parts, there are more than 1,000 parts in gasoline or diesel vehicles. The reality is that fewer engineers and supervisors will be needed on the floor. The German Automobile Association and Ifo Institute estimate that more than 600,000 of today’s 800,000 auto industry jobs would be directly or indirectly threatened by the end of combustion engines.

A growing body of research claims this is just a part of the bigger picture. A lot of jobs will become obsolete with the expansion of electromobility, but what about jobs that will be reciprocally generated? Some of the latest studies peg electromobility as removing industrial positions and replacing them with new ones in its stead.

“The (electric) car will be more than just its drive system,” said Willi Diez, head of the Nürtingen Institute for the Automotive Industry. “I don’t think the horror scenarios are realistic. The entire value chain will not be eroded.”

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