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An employee wires up an ID.4 at Volkswagen's plant in Saxony, Zwickau, in 2022. In addition to VW vehicles, vehicles from the Group's Audi and Seat brands also come off the production line at the plant. The vehicles are based on the Modular Electric Toolkit. Volkswagen has converted the site, which employs about 9,000 people, into a purely electric vehicle factory at a cost of 1.2 billion euros. Photograph by: Jan Woitas/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
By Vivienne Machi
STUTTGART, Germany — Climate change initiatives are transforming industrial sectors around the globe, and automakers here have set ambitious goals to pivot to electric vehicles and cleaner energy over the next decade, following federal directives as well as those of the European Union.
The shift is being felt at the heart of the industry – its workers – many of whom must either gain new skills to work in an increasingly digitized and automated work environment, or opt for early retirement.
Germany has committed to a “climate-neutral mobility goal” by 2050. According to the national automotive industry association VDA, carmakers and their suppliers are investing €220 billion ($239 billion) in climate-neutral research-and-development efforts through 2026, plus €100 billion ($109 billion) in upgrading manufacturing plants.
For many of Germany’s major auto companies, 2022 was a boom year for electric vehicle sales. BMW sold more than 215,000 EVs last year, more than double their sales in 2021, said board chairman Oliver Zipse during an annual earnings conference in March.
Battery electric vehicles will make up 15 percent of all BMW sales in 2023, a fifth of sales in 2024, one quarter of sales in 2025, and one third of sales in 2026, he forecast.
The electro-mobility transition has shifted the German automakers’ workforce from predominantly production-focused to build combustion engines, to one centered around information technology (IT) and digital skills.
The results are already stark: According to VDA, about 786,000 people were employed in the nation’s automobile industry in 2021. By 2025, the association forecast that at least 178,000 workers will be affected by the electro-mobility transformation; by 2030, at least 215,000 jobs will be affected.
Nearly 760,000 workers will have to be retrained, and “a good third of them will probably pursue at least similar or completely new occupations,” the VDA added.
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Vivienne Machi is an independent journalist. She has covered European defense programs, Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, and local government, crime, education, and food and dining in southwest Ohio. She has reported from Washington, D.C., Paris, London, Doha, Halifax, and across the continental U.S. Her byline has appeared in Business Insider, the Counter, Foreign Policy, Defense News, Via Satellite, the Baltimore Sun, the Dayton Daily News, and more. She is based in Stuttgart, Germany.
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