Self-Driving Cars are the Future. Will They Drive Away Factory Jobs?

David Arndt

Cars that can drive themselves seem like distant dreams of science fiction, but that reality is not as far off as it may seem - and the shining robotic future we dream of may have a dark side for those working in the auto industry.  On November 26, 2018, General Motors announced massive closures for their factories, saving $6 billion, but costing almost 15,000 paid jobs in the process.  The company is also halting production on several of their models, including the Chevy Cruze and Cadillac XTS.  

A brief glance at GM’s earnings and stocks might make this decision seem shocking.  The company has reported growth in the past decade and reported billions in income in the most recent quarter.  However, this decision was not entirely monetary-based, and instead seems to speak to what GM views as the future of the auto industry: electric cars and self-driving vehicles.

Autonomous Vehicles, GM Factory Closures

GM’s move away from compact sedans is fueled by consumer reaction in the last few years to move away from smaller cars to SUV’s, trucks and crossovers.  However they are not just adjusting focus away from their old vehicles, they’re embracing the race to affordable electric and autonomous vehicles.  With the price of the required technology dropping annually, several companies are jumping on the road to an electric future.  

You can see GM’s new focus by looking at one of their most successful divisions: GM Cruise.  In job numbers, GM Cruise hires a miniscule fraction on employees compared to the number of jobs soon to be lost, however the success of Cruise is on their focus towards electronic and self-driving vehicles.  GM is quickly gaining on their technological competitors, and with the international infrastructure, billions of dollars in income, and billions more to be saved by this change, GM may soon become the leading developer in making electronic and self-driving vehicles affordable to the average buyer.  

But this budding electric future does not provide much hope for workers now learning they have been laid off by a company that, until recently, has had a very strong relationship from owners down the line. This development could be viewed as just another step towards the downfall of a working blue collar class as major companies like GM move away from uneducated labor and further towards a smaller, more highly-educated workforce.  

When electric cars eventually become the new normal, many companies, including General Motors, will once again require labor workers to push out and meet the demand.  However, with the rise of robotics in warehousing and the increasing demand for highly-educated, specialized workers, the day of large work pools filled with blue collar workers may be inching closer and closer to being left in the dust of an autonomous future.

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