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BMW’s commitment to build electric cars in Cowley is welcome news – but a just transition for the workforce is not a done deal   

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BMW announced today that the company would invest £600 million to start production of two electric vehicles – the Mini Cooper and the Mini Aceman – at its Cowley and Swindon plants.  Production is slated to start in 2026. The Cowley will be all-electric by 2030. 

This is welcome news for the future of the Cowley and Swindon plants. However, there is no mention of the BMW Hams Hall engine plant and what the future plans for the site are. The site could perhaps transition to making electric drive trains, like Jaguar Land Rover has done with their engine manufacturing facility and Ford with their transmission plant in Halewood. 

At Cowley and Swindon, the focus should now be on supporting the workforce through the transition, protecting their pay and conditions, and ensuring that they, their representatives and Unite their Union get to play a leading role in what the transition looks like and how they achieve it.   

Aside from the BMW factories, this announcement will also affect the component supply chain – the companies that currently supply BMW with components for internal combustion engines, fuel systems and emissions systems. These companies and workforces need support to transition to other components required for electric vehicles, or other sectors.  

This is precisely where the current lack of a proper industrial strategy is failing the sector. While big car manufacturers announce plans to shift to zero-emissions vehicles, many of the smaller supply chain firms do not have a plan yet.  

The picture is further complicated by Brexit. The new rules of origin that come into effect next year means that manufacturers need a localised supply chain (either UK or EU based), or face imposed tariffs. The UK automotive sector employs over 150 thousand people, and is a hugely successful exporter of its products. We need to protect this by supporting the component supply chain that feeds into it, so it thrives despite the new tariffs.  

Recent TUC research shows that up to 850 thousand UK manufacturing and supply chain jobs could be at risk of offshoring because of the lack of a bold, worker- and climate-friendly industrial strategy. BMW’s investment in Cowley is good news for the future of the site, but the work of future-proofing the jobs has only just begun. 

Frank Duffy is the TUC’s project officer for a Worker-Led Transition in automotive.  Frank has worked in the automotive sector for most of his working life, previously as a senior rep at GKN Automotive.  

If you work in manufacturing and are interested in discussing how to future-proof jobs in your workplace, write to us on   

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