Steven Penkevich spent 36 years at Ford Motor Co. as part of an army of Detroit engineers perfecting the internal combustion engine, a technology that dates back to the dawn of the automobile era. He developed gasoline engines for family sedans and thunderous Nascar racing machines.
But last year the excitement was gone. His projects were no longer about moving the engine forward, but about nurturing existing technology. All the buzz had shifted to electric vehicles. In December, Mr Penkevich took early retirement at the age of 59.
“It should feel like you’re on a maintenance crew,” he said.
For more than a century, automakers have continually improved their gas and diesel engines, sparring over which ones had more power, better fuel economy, more durability or smoother ride.
Now some of the world’s largest auto companies are sending the combustion engine to the scrap heap, pumping billions of dollars into electric motors and battery factories. Instead of powertrain specialists, they hire thousands of software engineers and battery experts.