The UK’s largest trade union has warned that factories in the automotive supply chain will need to adapt to survive as electric cars replace traditional combustion engine models.

Assessing the changes facing the UK automotive sector, Unite said that hundreds of jobs could be lost unless the government supported auto part manufacturers in retraining workers and repurposing existing factories.

Unite’s report stated that the move to battery, plug-in or hybrid-powered vehicles would make a major difference to the 36,000-plus components that currently go into making a modern vehicle. It added that a full analysis of the impact of this change on the automotive supply chain was urgently needed in order to protect British jobs.

In 2017 UK plants made 1.67 million vehicles – a 3% drop on 2016 – but produced a record 2.72 million engines, many of which were for export. The UK automotive supply chain is believed to employ roughly 78,000 people, many of whom work on parts that will change or disappear completely in electric vehicles.

Electric moving vehicles have considerably fewer moving parts than petrol-driven ones. An all-electric Chevrolet Bolt has 35 moving parts, for instance, whereas a classic Volkswagen Golf has about 167.

Currently, 44% of the parts used in British car factories are manufactured in the UK, but many of the sub-components in these parts are imported from abroad. If the UK doesn’t invest in retraining and new technology, the number of parts manufactured overseas is sure to increase, Unite warned.

Vehicle manufacturers are developing electric cars in the face of government emission targets, concerns over pollution and pollution charges, and even bans on petrol and diesel-driven vehicles in certain areas of many major cities. Taxation and other punitive measures against internal combustion vehicles are expected to increase in the next few years, while the technology to manufacture cheaper, greener and more efficient electric vehicles improves.

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