As the auto industry flips to electric vehicles, it faces a challenge — developing the work force needed to build these new-technology vehicles.
It's an urgent task for automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo which are gearing up to build electric vehicles and battery packs in the southeastern U.S. in the next several years.
Mercedes is completing a $1 billion expansion at its Vance, Ala., factory that will include a battery assembly plant. Starting next year, the German automaker will produce battery-powered versions of its popular GLS and GLE utility vehicles at the site.
In Greer, S.C., BMW assembles plug-in hybrid X3 and X5 crossovers. In 2019, BMW doubled its battery assembly capacity to 86,000 square feet and invested $10 million to install a new battery assembly line. Since then, more than 150 employees have been trained in battery production, robotics and quality inspection.
About 185 miles southeast, Volvo is finishing work on a battery assembly plant at its South Charleston factory where it will begin building an electric version of its XC90 crossover late next year.
The Swedish automaker expects to become an EV-only brand by 2030, making retraining its work force a priority.
But building electric vehicles "is a totally different way of working than what they were used to for the past decades," Volvo's head of global production operations Geert Bruyneel noted.