Fired auto workers urged to join Europe’s booming bike industry – EURACTIV.com | Popgen Tech

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As the auto sector braces for job losses in the wake of increasing competition and the end of the combustion engine, bicycle manufacturers are encouraging redundant workers to enter the growing cycling industry.

Europe’s auto industry faces an uncertain future as competition from Chinese automakers increases, and factories discard decades of knowledge of internal combustion engines to focus on zero-emission vehicles.

Some 3.4 million people are employed across the EU by the automotive industry, both directly and indirectly.

Internal combustion engines require hundreds of components, involving a broad supply chain of companies.

But according to CLEPA, a Brussels-based body representing car suppliers, a full shift to electric vehicles could put more than 500,000 employees out of work in Europe by 2040, or about 84% of the current combustion engine workforce.

While EV production will create new jobs, the net loss is expected to reach 275,000 auto workers by 2040.

Amid the predicted job losses, the bicycle manufacturing sector is positioning itself as an unlikely lifeline for out-of-work auto employees.

A boom in cycling

Bicycle production across the block is at its highest level since records began in 2000, with 16.1 million bicycles and e-bikes produced. Some 22 million bikes were sold in the EU and the UK in 2021, worth around €19.7 billion.

Philip Amaral, the European Cyclists’ Federation’s policy director, told EURACTIV that former car workers’ skills are needed to scale up Europe’s cycling output.

“The bicycle industry in Europe can absorb hundreds of thousands of new workers who will have the welding skills, the electrification skills, the assembly skills and all the manufacturing skills that we need so that we can grow the industry,” he said.

“Some of the same skills are going to be needed to build more bike frames, to build more bike components, to build all the accessories that are part of the ecosystem to assemble bikes, and also electric bikes.”

According to industry estimates, more than a thousand companies manufacture bicycles and bicycle parts in the EU and the UK, directly employing 87,400 people. When indirect jobs are taken into account, the figure rises to 170,000 people.

Amaral’s views were supported by Manuel Marsilio, general manager of the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry.

“We see that the number of cars sold in Europe is decreasing. At the same time, we are seeing the number of e-cars imported from China increasing,” he said.

“It’s going to be a reality – fewer cars [produced] and imported more cars, especially from China, which means fewer jobs for the car industry in Europe.”

This is in contrast to the bicycle industry, according to Marsilio.

“Investments [in the bicycle sector] growing every year. And that is because there is confidence that the market will grow,” he said.

Skilled employment

The increased demand for electrically assisted e-bikes has led to a need for more highly skilled workers in the bicycle industry.

“E-bikes basically bring the bicycle industry closer to the automotive industry when it comes to the expertise and the complexity of certain jobs,” explained Marsilio.

The rise of high-tech robotics and battery production sharply contrasts traditional bicycle manufacturing, Kevin Mayne, CEO of Cycling Industries Europe, told EURACTIV.

“If you go back 10 years […] we didn’t need people who knew how to make very high-quality robotics and those kinds of tools,” he said. “But these are increasingly the same skills [as the automotive industry].”

Asked by EURACTIV whether the bike industry could match the pay and conditions provided by car manufacturers, Mayne was skeptical, but he believes it is unlikely that other industries can offer more attractive conditions.

Automotive mechanical engineering jobs “were often the highest paying jobs in their particular region,” he said. “I don’t think we can promise that our industry can maintain that level – we don’t think any other industry can either.”

EU support

The bike industry is calling for EU support to boost efforts to retrain workers.

Brussels’ plans to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 require the transformation of a range of carbon-heavy industries. Under the EU’s “Just Transition”, this shift away from fossil fuel-intensive manufacturing should not result in higher unemployment or a drop in living conditions.

To ensure this, the EU has implemented programs to support workers affected by the green revolution, such as training coal miners to enter the renewable energy sector. About €55 billion has been allocated to help the most affected regions.

Such a scheme could be replicated for the automotive industry, argues Marsilio.

“If we have the support of the EU through special programs and funding to enable the bicycle industry to retrain those workers, then we will have the perfect story,” he said.

CLEPA Secretary General Benjamin Krieger also called for EU support for the mobility transformation, including a dedicated funding mechanism.

“Despite turbulent times and shrinking profit margins, suppliers have a long-term view and are committed to keeping plants open and retraining their workforce,” he told EURACTIV.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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