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Nolan Finley: Auto industry driving away from Motor City

From the commentary: Still, our political and industrial leaders should take a pause from their EV giddiness to figure out how to mitigate the damage this revolution promises to wreak

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the North American International Auto Show on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Detroit. Biden announced a $900 million investment in electric vehicle infrastructure on the national highway system in 35 states.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the North American International Auto Show on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Detroit. Biden announced a $900 million investment in electric vehicle infrastructure on the national highway system in 35 states.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/TNS
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John James was tagged as a fearmonger for warning on the campaign trail that autoworkers and suppliers have reason to be wary of their industry's rapid push into electrification.

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James, the Republican candidate in the 10th Congressional District race, is telling voters in his auto-rich communities that fewer of them will have a place in the future of the industry.

"We've got 13 powertrain plants in Michigan, and they're going to replace those with just four plants," James said in an interview this week with The Detroit News editorial board. "Somebody owes us a solution for how we are gong to participate in the future of automobility."

He's telling the truth.

Those flashy rechargeable cars and trucks now on the floor of the North American International Auto Show at Huntington Place will require fewer parts and less labor to put them together.

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To quantify, automakers project 30% fewer workers will be needed to make an EV from start to finish. That will amount to the elimination of about 130,000 jobs currently held by United Auto Workers members, and 333,000 industrywide.

Electric vehicles also contain fewer parts than gas-powered cars and trucks. Today's vehicles have, on average, roughly 30,000 parts. EVs consist of roughly 15,000.

Drive along Nine Mile or Mound Road and count the number of plants, from small to large, that are dedicated to making auto parts. Then think about what the landscape will look like in Metro Detroit if a third of the suppliers no longer have customers for their products.

This has the potential of becoming an economic disaster for Michigan.

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The transformation of the auto industry will shake the Motor City's hold on it. Auto manufacturing is being rebuilt from the ground up, and the ground it's built on could be anywhere.

Jobs already are being created in the new green auto industry, but Michigan has had limited success in competing for them. Automakers have decided there are greener pastures on which to build battery plants and find the high-tech bodies to put in them.

Those whose sweat and continued commitment are funding the transformation risk getting left behind in communities filled with another generation of shuttered factories.

"This is not a dying industry," James said. "But we need leaders who can lean forward to make sure we can protect jobs. We’ve seen this story before. We’ve seen this with the exodus of jobs from Detroit. We saw it during the Great Recession. If we don’t have a plan for Michigan, if we don’t have a plan for our suppliers and those employees, it could be worse this time."

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The juggernaut toward an all-EV fleet won't be halted because it risks moving tens of thousands of autoworkers into the unemployment line and destroying businesses that are vital to local economies.

Automakers have already committed to investing $515 billion by 2025 in electrification. They couldn't turn back now if they wanted.

Still, our political and industrial leaders should take a pause from their EV giddiness to figure out how to mitigate the damage this revolution promises to wreak.

Nolan Finley is a customer for The Deroit News. This commentary is his opinion. Send feedback to: opinion@wctrib.com.

©2022 www.detroitnews.com. Visit at detroitnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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