Despite all the money that automakers have made in recent years, their executives express a profound unease about the growth of electric vehicles, which account for 7 percent of the U.S. new car market so far this year and are on track to surpass sales of one million this year. Managers are acutely aware that traditional companies like theirs have a poor track record of retaining dominance after a big change in technology. Witness the way that Apple sidelined Nokia and Motorola as cellphones became smartphones.
Auto company executives and most industry analysts underestimated how quickly electric vehicles would catch on and cannot confidently forecast how sales, which have been bumpy lately, will grow in the future. “I don’t think anyone can perfectly predict what the adoption will be,” Mary T. Barra, the chief executive of General Motors, said in an interview with The New York Times last month.
Speaking to “CBS Mornings” on Friday, Ms. Barra said an excessive pay raise would undermine G.M.’s ability to continue producing vehicles with internal combustion engines while also developing electric vehicles. “This is a critical juncture where investing is very important,” she said.
Still, unions and their supporters are unlikely to express much sympathy for auto executives. Ms. Barra, Mr. Farley of Ford and the chief executive of Stellantis, Carlos Tavares, have gotten tens of millions of dollars in compensation packages in recent years. The companies’ shareholders have been rewarded with dividends and share buybacks.
At the same time, union officials are aware of the changes in the industry and have said they do not want to handicap G.M., Ford and Stellantis as the companies try to recover ground they have lost to Tesla, which has aggressively resisted attempts to unionize its factories. The Detroit carmakers also face challengers like Rivian, a start-up that makes electric pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles in Illinois, as well as foreign-owned rivals like Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, whose U.S. factories, mostly in the South, are not unionized.