Automakers to add thousands of jobs

January 19, 2012
Automakers to add thousands of jobs
Unstable currency elsewhere makes U.S. factories attractive
By JERRY HIRSCH / Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles —The U.S. auto industry plans to add thousands of jobs this year as sales continue to rebound and automakers look to produce more cars in the United States to sidestep currency woes overseas.

The growth in domestic manufacturing is coming as U.S. auto sales are recovering from historic lows during the recession.

“The yen, the euro, all the currencies that affect the manufacturers’ balance sheets, except for the dollar, are in flux. So the only way to hedge is to build where you sell,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive.

Last week, German automakers joined the U.S. hiring binge. The commercial truck division of Mercedes-Benz and the factory that builds BMW sport utility vehicles said they would add a total of about 1,500 jobs at plants in the Carolinas this year.

They joined domestic automakers Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group, both of which said in the past two weeks they would add hundreds of factory workers at plants in Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois.

Electric car makers Tesla Motors Inc. and Coda Automotive Inc. also plan to ramp up employment in California as they bring vehicles to the market this year.

And Japanese automakers also are adding workers as they shift more production to the U.S. in a bid to avoid profit-eating manufacturing in their home markets caused by the soaring value of the yen.

They all are bracing for more sales this year. Automakers sold 12.8 million vehicles last year, a 10.3 percent increase from 2010 and the most since 2008. They expect sales to reach about 13.8 million this year.

The growth is pushing the need for more workers. Total payrolls at U.S. auto plants could reach 650,000 employees this year, a 10 percent gain, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

Some jobs will be at a lower wage — about $15 to $16 an hour — than the base wage of about $28 to $29 earned by current workers because of recent labor agreements. Each company with a labor contract will determine how many of the hires are recalled workers and how many are new hires.

As recently as a decade ago, the industry employed about 1 million workers. It then fell into a steady decline that included layoffs of 200,000 workers during the recession.

At the low, about 550,000 workers were employed in auto manufacturing.

Hiring started to climb back slowly in the past two years. Now, the research center forecasts employment will top 750,000 in 2015.

One factor is that overseas automakers plan to add factories in the U.S., Lindland said.

Audi executives said they will build a factory here, possibly at the Volkswagen complex in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Nissan also is adding about 1,000 workers in Tennessee as it gears up for production of the Leaf electric vehicle and its batteries, as well as new Pathfinder and Infiniti SUVs.

South Korean automotive siblings Hyundai and Kia also are said to be considering a major expansion in the South.

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