Auto Industry Transformation

Technology Drives Change

The pace of vehicle technology change is accelerating. Vehicles are changing in response to consumer taste and expectations, higher safety standards, and the drive toward a low-carbon future. When considering changes in automotive technology that support the "greening" of automotive transportation, most people think first about advanced powertrains, materials and electronics. These three technology sectors play a significant role in the transformation of the new auto industry:

  • Powertrain: The most noteworthy change is the re-emergence of the electric vehicle. The development of alternative forms of energy storage (primarily batteries) is rapidly progressing. As powertrain technologies advance, the locations of powertrain production and employment may shift. It is possible that new propulsion systems will be produced outside the region or require fewer workers to produce the same number of propulsion systems. In either event (or both), a large-scale displacement of traditional engine production by alternative technologies puts the tri-state region's powertrain employment at risk.

  • Materials: The need to make vehicles lighter for improved fuel economy is a major driver in the development of automotive materials and forming. The U.S. workforce's strength is in steel, but less so in alternative materials. While there are only a few domestic metallurgy programs focused on lightweight materials, Europe and Asia have much more experience in this field.

  • Electronics, software and controls: Technology in vehicles will continue to increase at a rapid rate. Today, electronics accounts for 25 percent of a vehicle's value—tomorrow, 40 percent. Yes, the tri-state region is poised to benefit from the research and development, design, engineering, and systems integration side of the electronics used in vehicles, but the area may lose jobs to other automotive regions that are stronger in electronics manufacturing, particularly producers in Europe and Asia.

Workforce Implications

Today's auto industry workers need systems thinking. That means that individuals must possess the soft skills that enable cross-cultural communication, collaboration and teamwork. Production and skilled-trades workers must adapt to an increasingly fast cadence of new product, process and technology introductions.

Fortunately, the tri-state region has the educational infrastructure to meet these challenges and prepare the workforce for the occupations and careers of the future. Out of nearly 900 accredited postsecondary institutions in the region, more than one-third offer programs relevant to the engineering, design, production and maintenance of automobiles.


Driving Change is funded by the State Labor Market Information Improvement Program of the U.S. Employment and Training Administration.

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