“Historic” investments in electric vehicles for Canada: Unifor and Ford, Fiat Chrysler agreements (updated)

In a September 28 press release, the Canadian union for auto workers, Unifor, reports that members at the Ford Motor Company voted 81% overall in favour of new three year collective agreements “that include $1.95 billion in investments to bring battery electric vehicle (BEV) production to Oakville and a new engine derivative to Windsor, along with other significant gains…. ….. This agreement is perfect timing and positions our members at the forefront of the electric vehicle transformation, as the Oakville plant will be a key BEV supplier to the North American and European Union markets”. Under the heading, “Making History in Challenging Times”, the Ford Bargaining Report Summary  reports that the retooling is scheduled to begin in 2024, with the first BEV vehicles forecasted to roll off the assembly line in 2026, “and hopefully sooner.” Also, “Through this conversion, Oakville will become the first mass production BEV plant in Canada – and one of only a few currently in North America. Ford’s investment is also the biggest single facility investment in the auto sector since 2015 in Canada.”

The Bargaining Summary highlights changes in wages, pensions, and all topics, including that the company and union agreed on the advantages of having a union Workplace Environmental Representative, and that additional training will be offered to the workplace environmental representatives “related to Global Plant Action”. Unifor and Ford also agreed to develop an Anti-Racism Action Plan, and to establish a new Racial Justice Advocate position which will offer support to those who face anti-Black and anti-Indigenous discrimination.  

Media coverage of the agreement appeared in the Toronto Star on September 20, pointing out that the federal and provincial governments will also contribute to the re-tooling of the Oakville plant.  On September 22, the Star also published “Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are betting that electric vehicles can recharge the economy. But a vision is not a plan” , summarizing some of the policy context of the decisions. And beyond the benefit to the auto manufacturing sector, on September 17,  Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources was making the case that “Mining gives Canada a competitive advantage in electric vehicle market” arguing that “we are the only nation in the western hemisphere with an abundance of cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel, the minerals needed to make next-generation electric batteries.”

$1.5 billion investment for EV production in Fiat Chrysler agreement

Following the agreement with Ford Canada, Unifor announced the ratification of 3-year contract with Fiat Chrysler (October 19 press release), including a $1.5 billion commitment to electric vehicle production at the Windsor Ontario plant. Jerry Dias states: “This year’s Auto Talks will go down in history as a transformational moment for the Canadian auto sector. Years of government neglect, job loss and worker despair is quickly turning to optimism, hope and a very bright future.” He repeated this message in an October 20 OpEd in the Toronto StarA new green auto strategy for Canada

The Unifor summary document includes all the agreement provisions, and includes the full text of the Product and Investment Commitment Letter, describing the plans for Windsor:

“In addition to the continued production of the current Pacifica and Voyager/Grand Caravan products, including the PHEV, AWD and ICE models, FCA confirms the intention to install a new multi-energy vehicle architecture (including Plug-In Hybrid Electric (PHEV) and/or Battery Electric (BEV) capability) and at least one new model on that architecture, contingent on the necessary agreements in partnership with the Company, the Union, and both Federal and Provincial governments which includes the implementation of this collective agreement and government financial support for the associated investments. With that joint commitment, the Company’s intention is to add the necessary assembly tooling and equipment to manufacture electrified vehicles for future models, currently planned from the 2025 model year. The total impact of this investment and product plan is estimated at 5,700 secured or new jobs by 2024 returning to a 3 shift operation. Potential workforce increase of 2,000 employees over today’s active on-roll employment. Investment related to Windsor Assembly: CDN $1.35B to $1.50B.”

In addition to the headline-grabbing investment commitment for new Electric Vehicle production, the agreement also enhances training for Workplace Environmental Representatives, and increases the frequency of the existing union-management business review meetings. “The parties agree to review company product plans and business forecasts, including on electric, autonomous, connected vehicle and component parts development.”

Labour’s perspective on electric vehicles

Unifor’s Road Map for a Fair, Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery, published in   the summer, states: “The government must also take the lead in supporting zero-emission vehicle manufacturing and preparing the economy for electrified transportation through targeted subsidies and investment in battery technology innovation. A long-overdue National Auto Strategy, for instance, would help merge Canada’s innovation agenda, trade policy, skills training and infrastructure development to foster a modern supply chain for EV components and parts, leading to final assembly. This need not only apply to light duty, passenger vehicles but other modes of surface transportation, including mass transit, commercial trucking and logistics, student transportation, taxis and light rail. Once in place, such a strategy could serve as a rubric for all transportation sectors and industries.” 

These points are also made by Angelo DiCaro, Research Director for Unifor,  in an essay titled “Canada’s auto sector revival will take more than wishful thinking. We need a plan”, featured in the August/September issue of The Monitor, and at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website.  DiCaro reiterates the call for a national auto strategy, and sketches out key steps for a national Electric Vehicle strategy, starting with Step 1, a “comprehensive mapping of existing capacities and materials needed to forge a complete supply chain for EVs and component parts in Canada”, followed by setting domestic production targets for vehicle assembly and component manufacturing.

Union workers are strong allies for electric vehicles, as Canada’s Unifor demonstrates appeared in the industry newsletter Electrek in June 2020, quoting favourable statements re EV manufacturing from both Unifor and the United Auto Workers(UAW) in the U.S. The UAW published their report, Taking the High Road: Strategies for a fair EV Future in January, making specific policy recommendations, and stating: “The UAW rejects the idea promoted by climate change deniers that fuel efficiency and environmental regulations lead to closed plants and lost jobs. Fuel-efficient vehicles, clean energy, clean manufacturing, renewable energy and other advanced technologies are an opportunity to create new middle-class jobs with good pay, good benefits, and economic security.”

More recently,  the American Center for Progress released  “Electric Vehicles Should Be a Win for American Workers” on Sept. 23 . It concludes: “Federal funding to incentivize consumer demand, drive manufacturer investments, and build out electric vehicle infrastructure should be made contingent on key job quality and domestic content standards. In structuring funding, policymakers must be realistic about present EV capacity while also ensuring that taxpayer dollars do not subsidize low-road employers or erode job quality standards in the broader industry. By designing federal policies that encourage both rapid vehicle electrification and the creation of high-quality, good-paying domestic jobs throughout the EV ecosystem, policymakers can satisfy the priorities of climate and labor advocates and ensure economic prosperity for future generations. In a period of significant economic and environmental challenges, the transition to EVs presents a powerful and positive opportunity to improve conditions for both American workers and the climate.”

Electric vehicle policy in Canada

In response to the news of the Unifor/Ford agreement, Clean Energy Canada published a Media Brief: “What is a zero emission vehicle standard and why does Canada need one?” . It notes research from the International Council on Clean Transportation that found that Canada is the 12th largest vehicle producer in the world but  is responsible for only 0.4% of global EV production. Assessing that Canada has a EV supply problem,  Clean Energy Canada recommends a ZEV standard as the solution, rather than a voluntary standard or consumer incentives.  “A ZEV standard is a supply-focused policy that requires a gradually rising percentage of vehicles sold by auto manufacturers to be zero-emission (i.e. battery-electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles). While purchase incentives help drive demand, ZEV standards secure supply.”  Currently, only British Columbia and Quebec have ZEV standards in place – with B.C. having passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle Act  in May 2019, requiring automakers to meet increasing annual levels of EV sales reaching 10% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2025, 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040.  On July 30, B.C. followed up with new ZEV regulations under the Act which set phased-in annual targets and other compliance requirements, as well as a ZEV advisory council to be comprised of industry, ENGOs, local governments, First Nations, infrastructure providers and academics, to provide input into the ministry’s EV programming and policies .  

The Clean Energy Media Brief links to many supporting documents, including a recent academic discussion, “Which plug-in electric vehicle policies are best? A multi-criteria evaluation framework applied to Canada”  which appeared in the June 2020 issue of Energy Research and Social Science.  

Amnesty International campaign calls for better mining, manufacture, and disposal of electric vehicle batteries

golf electricWhile the Nordic EV Summit   in March 2019 showcased progress on the adoption of electric vehicles, Amnesty International used that backdrop to  issue a challenge to leaders in the electric vehicle industry –  to produce the world’s first completely ethical battery, free of human rights abuses within its supply chain, within five years.

It is not news that the mining of  cobalt and lithium, the two key minerals in batteries, has been linked to human rights abuses, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and indigenous rights violations.   Amnesty was amongst the first to document the child labour and human rights abuses with a report This is what we die for   in 2016,  updated in  2017 by an article,  “The Dark Side of Electric Cars: Exploitative Labor Practices”.  More recently, “Indigenous people’s livelihoods at risk in scramble for lithium, the new white goldappeared in The Ethical Corporation  (April 9), describing the human rights situation in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, which hold 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are also of concern.

In addition to the mining of raw materials, battery manufacturing has a high carbon footprint, with most of the current manufacturing concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power.

Finally, the issue of electronic waste, including batteries, has been the subject of several  reports:  From  the International Labour Organization :  in 2012,  Global Impact of E-waste: Addressing the Challenge and more recently,  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) , an Issues paper produced for a Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste in April 2019.  The 2019  report provides estimates of the workforce involved in some countries – led by China, with an estimated 690,000 workers in 2007, followed by up to 100,000 in Nigeria , followed by 60,000 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The report deals mainly with occupational health and safety issues and includes an overview of international  e-waste regulation, as well as case studies of  the U.S., Argentina, China, India, Japan, Nigeria.  Similar discussions appear in  A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot , released by the E-waste Coalition at the 2019 World Economic Forum, and in a blog, Dead Batteries deserve a Second Life published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development on April 9.evcobalt-lithium-V2_1-supply-chain

Clearly, there are labour and environmental problems related to lithium-ion batteries and the green vehicles and electronic devices they power.  Recognizing  all these concerns, the new Amnesty International campaign is calling for:  improvement in human rights practices in mining, and  a prohibition on commercial deep-sea mining; disclosure and accounting for carbon in manufacturing, and for legal protection and enforcement of workplace rights such as health, equality and non-discrimination; finally for products to be designed and regulated to encourage re-use and penalize waste, with prevention of  illegal or dangerous export and dumping of batteries.

A closer look at electric vehicle growth: impact on pollution, and labour conditions in the mines supplying raw materials

solar-power-1020194_1920The summer started with several “good news” stories about the surge of electric vehicles, such as “Starting in 2019, Volvo will use electricity to power every new model” from the Washington Post (July 5) , quoting Volvo’s CEO :  “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”  Bloomberg Business Week, summarizing the findings of its latest New Energy forecast,  stated on July 7, “in just eight years, electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline vehicles, pushing the global fleet to 530 million vehicles by 2040″, and “Electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries” .  On July 6,  France announced   it would end the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2040 ,  and on July 26 the U.K. released its Clean Air Plan, which included  a ban on the sale of new diesel and gas cars after 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that.

Response to the U.K. announcement is mixed.  In “Electric cars are not the solution to air pollution” Professor Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London and chair of the government’s  Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants states that “The government’s plan does not go nearly far enough,” “Our cities need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars.”  In his role as a member of  the Centre for London’s commission on the future of the capital’s roads and streets  ,    Professor Kelly provides more detail about the problem of particle pollution and states:  “London should lead in showing electric cars will not tackle air pollution”  in The Guardian (August 4).  His conclusion: “The safe and efficient movement of people around the city can only be achieved through a clean and expanded mass transit system served by buses, overground trains and the underground system – and as much active transport in the form of walking and cycling as is feasibly possible.”

Others are raising issues about electric vehicles on other grounds, specifically the environmental costs  and labour conditions of producing the lithium ion batteries that power them.  These are not new concerns:  Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods raised the flag in June 2015 with “The battery revolution is exciting, but remember they pollute too”   in The Conversation.   In January 2016, Amnesty International published a detailed documentation of the hazardous working conditions and the use of child labour in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in  This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt  . (Cobalt is also used in mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices). The report  is available in English, French and Chinese from this link .

More recently,  “Politically charged: do you know where your batteries come from? ” appeared in The Conversation (July 26),   providing an overview of the geography , politics, and environmental impact of  lithium-ion battery raw materials. Briefly, the current major producers of lithium are Australia, Chile, Argentina and China, with Australia and Chile accounting for about 75% of the total. The main environmental concern, especially in Chile, is that the extraction can impact water supply in desert areas.  The article also looks at supply chain issues and states : “With almost half of the world’s cobalt ore reserves concentrated in Democratic Republic of Congo for the foreseeable future, and with a large proportion of refining capacity located in China, the supply chain could be more vulnerable.”  Not to mention the vulnerability of the miners Amnesty International has documented.

A  Canadian viewpoint on  the issue of supply:   “Clean Energy Spurs Lithium Rush, Demands Response to ‘Dirty Mining’” in the  Energy Mix (August 8). In the article, Financial Post columnist Peter Tertzakian states: “ it takes the equivalent of 15,000 cell phone batteries to make one battery for an electric car,” and “ramping up raw material inputs to build millions of car batteries a year fills the back of the envelope with scalability issues.” These supply issues may lead to a growth of “dirty mining” practices.  Will Canada be affected by the push for clean energy raw materials?  We do not currently produce lithium, although the article states that  engineers are trying to isolate it from tar sand/oil sand waste. We are a minor producer of other battery components,  graphite and cobalt, and the 3rd largest  producer of  nickel in the world.  According to Bloomberg News in August, the growth of electric vehicles will drive a doubling of demand for nickel by 2050. However, Bloomberg reports that  mining giant  BHP Bilton will invest in Australia to make it the world’s largest producer of nickel for electric vehicle batteries.

A final troubling issue with electric vehicles: disposal.  “The rise of electric cars could leave us with a big battery waste problem ”   according to The Guardian (August 10) , which cites the International Energy Agency estimates of  140m electric cars globally by 2030, resulting in a possible  11 million tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries in need of recycling.  Two solutions are profiled in the article: recycling and reuse. The recycling profile features the CEO of  Canadian battery recycling start-up company, Li-Cycle, which is pioneering a  wet chemistry process which would  retrieve all of the important metals from batteries. The  proponents of the re-use solution include Aceleron and carmaker Nissan, which has patented a process for re-use. The article states that  car batteries can still have up to 70% of their capacity when they stop being good enough to power electric vehicles, so that they can be broken down, tested and re-packaged for functions such as home energy storage.

 

 

 

Small steps for the miners behind electric vehicles and smart phones

Cobalt is a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric cars. 60% of the world’s supply is mined in  Congo, according to “The Cobalt Pipeline” (September 2016),  a Washington Post special report which documented the appalling working conditions of the “artisanal miners”.  Occupational health and safety concerns for  miners was also  expressed in  “The Battery Revolution is exciting, but Remember they Pollute too”, by Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods in The Conversation (June 2015).

In a December 20 article,  the Washington Post reports on two new initiatives to curb “the worst forms of child labor” and other abusive workplace practices in the supply chain for cobalt. The first, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, is being  led by  the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, and supported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with members pledging to follow OECD guidelines  which call for companies to trace how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold. Apple, HP, Samsung SDI and Sony have signed on.

The second initiative, the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI) has been launched by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition , a nonprofit group sponsored by more than 110  electronics companies, and  “dedicated to improving the social, environmental and ethical conditions of their global supply chains.” The EICC states that it “engages regularly with dozens of non-member organizations including civil society groups, trade unions and other worker’s groups, academia and research institutions, socially responsible investors, and governmental and multilateral institutions.”  Ford Motor Company is a member of the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative, by virtue of being the first auto manufacturer to join the EICC. ( Press release is here (February 2016). Ford has sought to brand itself as a leader in ethical supply chain management   ; see their report,  Going Further towards Supply Chain Leadership . Tesla, the most high-profile electric vehicle manufacturer, is said to be considering membership in the RRMI. According to a report from Energy Mix (June 24, 2016) “Tesla’s Ambitions Demand ‘Unprecedented Quantities’ of Key Minerals” , including lithium, nickel, cobalt, and aluminum to produce vehicle batteries.  As of January 2017, Energy Mix also reported  that  Tesla started mass production at its lithium-ion battery Gigafactory in Nevada, which will be the world’s largest when it is complete in 2018 .

tesla-gigafactory

Tesla Gigafactory, Nevada.  Photo from the Tesla website .

Life Cycle Analysis of Battery Electric Vehicles

electric carThe Union of Concerned Scientists has released Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave  , a comprehensive, two-year review of the climate emissions from vehicle production, operation, and disposal. It concludes that battery electric cars generate half the emissions of the average comparable gasoline car, even when pollution from battery manufacturing is accounted for. One chapter discusses the emissions of the manufacturing process, with estimates based on the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model S. The study concludes that emissions from manufacturing a full-size BEV are about 33 percent of its lifetime global warming emissions; the remaining 67 percent come from driving it.