Who loses and who gains as California cleans up its cars? Nearly 32,000 mechanics would lose jobs by 2040 under the proposed phaseout of new gas-powered cars. Electric companies would be the big winners.
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The pungent odor of motor oil and grease wafts through the air at JR Automotive in San Francisco as Jesus Rojas lifts the hood of a 2014 Honda Civic to inspect its engine.
Gasoline-powered vehicles like this one have hundreds of moving parts and other components that keep mechanics like Rojas busy. Rojas, 42, has spent much of his life refining the specialized skills needed to inspect and repair them.
But as California switches to electric vehicles in its battle against climate change and air pollution, these skills will be needed less and less over the next decade. By 2040, the state projects that nearly 32,000 auto mechanics jobs will be lost in California, since electric vehicles need far less maintenance and repair than conventional combustion engines.
“I’m not against electric vehicles,” said Rojas, who immigrated to the Bay Area from Mexico as a teenager and opened his own shop 11 years ago. “I’ve always loved cars and I’ll work on them until I can’t anymore. So we have to adjust. We have to get out of our comfort zones.”
In an effort to transform to a carbon-neutral, climate-friendly state, California’s proposal to phase out all new gas-powered cars by 2035 will drive a wide-ranging transition of the workforce.
Throughout the economy, an estimated 64,700 jobs will be lost because of the mandate, according to the California Air Resources Board’s calculations. On the other hand, an estimated 24,900 jobs would be gained in other sectors, so the estimated net loss is 39,800 jobs, a minimal amount across the state’s entire economy, by 2040.
But no single workforce in the state would be hurt more than auto mechanics: California has about 60,910 auto service technicians and mechanics, and more than half of those jobs would be lost over the next two decades if the mandate goes into effect, the air board calculates.
The transition would be phased in over a decade: Beginning with 2026 models, 35% of new cars and light-duty trucks sold in California would be zero-emission, reaching 51% in 2028, 68% in 2030 and 100% in 2035. The board will hold a hearing on June 9 before voting on the proposal in August.
Alex Dirige, 67, an immigrant from Guam who has worked as a mechanic in San Francisco for more than 30 years, worries that the transition to electric cars will threaten the livelihoods of vulnerable groups like undocumented immigrants and cause many auto repair workers to leave the industry altogether.
The trade provides a steady and reliable income in California for many workers with no college degree. On average, mechanics across the state earn about $26 an hour or $54,190 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Many mechanics who have