American auto industry about to go on hiring spree

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Among the hiring planned for this year:

— Chrysler will add more than 3,500 workers this year at factories in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan to make transmissions and to build Jeeps and Ram pickups.

— Ford expects to hire 2,200 salaried workers in information technology, product development and manufacturing. Plus the company is hiring 1,400 factory workers and recalling another 2,000 laid-off employees, in Michigan and Missouri.

— GM is hiring 4,000 engineers and computer professionals at four technical centers in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Texas to develop software and other innovations.

— Honda is adding at least 500 jobs this year at factories in Ohio, Indiana and Alabama as it moves more production to North America.

— At TRW Automotive, recruiters are looking for 50 engineers in the Detroit area to work on new safety features such as a system that warns drivers when large animals are in their path.

Smaller companies also are joining in. Automotive business at Waukesha Metal Products in Sussex, Wis., is so strong that the company is near its capacity to make metal parts for axles, drive shafts and interiors. It’s adding $1 million worth of equipment near Milwaukee and building a plant in Mexico to be closer to companies it supplies.

Most industry analysts predict that U.S. auto sales will rise gradually during the next five years. Estimates for this year range from 15 million to 15.5 million, compared with 14.5 million a year ago. LMC Automotive, a Troy, Mich., forecasting firm, predicts that sales will gradually increase to 17 million in 2017. That level would be almost equal to the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Analysts say sales will climb as more people reach driving age. Also, many consumers and businesses still have cars and trucks they bought last decade, if not earlier. The average vehicle on U.S. roads is now a record 11.2 years.

The improving economy also helps lift sales. As the housing and construction sectors have come back to life, pickup sales have risen faster than the rest of the market. That has meant a job for Curtis Enkey of suburban Kansas City.

Enkey was laid off in April of last year when Ford moved production of the Escape SUV from his factory near Kansas City to Louisville, Ky. He wasn’t supposed to come back until Ford started making a commercial van at his plant in July or August. But higher sales of the F-150 pickup, which also is made at his factory, brought an early call to return.

Now Enkey is happily working 50-hour weeks. A Ford worker since 1995, he makes about $29 per hour plus benefits.

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