Employees of automakers across the globe are facing big changes in the coming years. As traditional combustion-dedicated propulsion shops are sunset, automakers are working to build big battery factories across the U.S. to support the growing EV initiative. And that means a whole new chance for unions to organize a new generation of workers.

Welcome to Critical Materials, your daily roundup of all things EV and automotive tech. Today, we're talking about the United Auto Workers effort to unionize U.S. battery plant workers, Waymo's temporary expansion setback, and Lotus' big stock listing valuation for its new EV division. Let's dig in.

30%: UAW Throwing Cash at Chance to Organize EV Battery Workers

Toyota North Carolina Battery Plant Construction

After an almost unprecedented show of force striking and winning concessions on the Big Three last year, the UAW board voted in favor of dedicating $40 million in funds to help organize workers at EV battery plants across the U.S.

Its plans are part of a larger effort to organize all brands and factories not currently under the UAW's umbrella. The union made this commitment publicly last year after leading strikes to negotiate lucrative new contracts to benefit workers, but now it is adding funds specifically for workers in battery factories that directly impact the booming EV auto industry.

Here's what the UAW has to say: 

In the next few years, the electric vehicle battery industry is slated to add tens of thousands of jobs across the country, and new standards are being set as the industry comes online. These jobs will supplement, and in some cases largely replace, existing powertrain jobs in the auto industry. Through a massive new organizing effort, workers will fight to maintain and raise the standard in the emerging battery industry. 

Over the next two years, the UAW will dump the funding into campaigns and efforts specifically meant to organize workers at new battery plants being spun up by automakers like BMW, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and more.

The UAW, which once represented 1.5 million workers in the 1970s, has just 383,000 members in recent years. It has since launched campaigns at 13 automakers not currently represented by the UAW, including EV-exclusive automakers like Tesla and Rivian.

Organizing new members has become an increasing focus of the labor movement in the U.S. after decades of decline; among many leaders, it is seen as even more crucial than contract negotiations. 

If the union fails to adapt to the shifting industry, it could be at risk of losing more members, and its bargaining power in turn. That's why the union sees it as critical to invest its funds into expanding further across non-union brands and adding battery plants to the mix—just as it did with General Motor's Ultium factory in Ohio at the end of 2022.

60%: Waymo (Temporarily) Denied Expansion by California Regulators

Waymo Jaguar I-Pace

California regulators have hit the brakes on the possibility of Waymo expanding its operations in the state anytime soon.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which oversees the permits necessary for robotaxi companies like Waymo and Cruise to charge for rides in the state, has placed a Waymo expansion application into bureaucratic purgatory until at least the summer. The application (which was due for a decision earlier this week) has been "suspended for further staff review," according to a notice on the CPUC's website, meaning that the regulator will decide whether or not Waymo can expand its footprint no sooner than June 19th.

Now, Waymo is no stranger to application delays. Both Waymo and Cruise have faced administrative delays on permit applications in the past, ultimately having them approved in the long run. However, Waymo's most recent application comes at a tumultuous time for autonomous vehicles in the Golden State.

Waymo has been in some hot water after one of its vehicles struck a bicyclist earlier this month. Public outcry has already been elevated after a Cruise robotaxi—named Panini—struck and drug a pedestrian thrown in front of it by another car in October. The two incidents have since put eyes on regulators to more closely control these autonomous taxi providers. After all, we have to remember that at the end of the day, Waymo is operating a fleet of software-driven 4,700-pound electric SUVs.

It's not just the public that is fighting back against the CPUC's complete oversight of AVs, either. The City of San Francisco sued the state earlier this year following the regulator's decision to allow 24/7 robotaxi operations—something that local cities and municipalities have no jurisdiction over and have sparked a struggle for control by lawmakers in recent weeks.

90%: Lotus' EV Division Valued at $5.5 Billion Ahead of Stock Exchange Listing

Lotus Emeya (2024)

Famed British sports car maker Lotus, now owned by Chinese conglomerate Geely and facing an electric reinvention, will soon find itself listed on the stock exchange for the second time thanks to its new EV division" Lotus Technologies.

Its listing will value the company at a whopping $5.5 billion, $880 million of which has already been raised by investors ahead of the IPO. The value is thanks to the automaker's plan to sell more than 75,000 cars annually thanks to its fully-electric Eletre SUV and Emeya sedan.

That prediction is massive considering that Lotus made only 1,378 sales in 2021. And in 2021, the company made even fewer sales: just 576 units. However, 2023 was reportedly a huge breakthrough for Lotus with a huge global expansion and more than 17,000 orders in the first three quarters of the year.

Lotus Technologies' public offering is one of the latest EV-focused Special Purpose Acquisition Companies to have formed in recent years. This SPAC boom has quickly accelerated new automakers to the stock market, which in turn has helped investors in search of the next stock to produce what you might call "Tesla Money."

However, it's hard to ignore that investors have seemingly lost faith in many newly listed EV-focused automakers. It's impossible to call the EV gold rush tapped out, but as legacy automakers fight to claw their way to the top, the mainstreaming of battery-electric cars has resulted in EV investments moving to the back burner as the heat dies down. Even Geely, has divested some of its funding from sister company Polestar.

100%: Looking at a Lotus?

Lotus Emeya (2024)

Lotus is one of those automakers that so many enthusiasts value for being a pure, innovative sports car company. Like most car companies, its forward-looking direction is based around battery power, which means that a whole new generation of gearheads can continue to enjoy a new breed of British sports cars for years to come.

That being said, is an electrified Lotus on your list of dream cars? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

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