U.S. auto industry - a dark cloud with a silver lining

We're all familiar with the "dark cloud" side of the equation - declining Big Three market share, massive layoffs at GM and Ford, and a brewing confrontation between U.S. automakers and the UAW.
BusinessWeek points out that there's a pretty robust silver lining to the U.S. auto industry - it's just not where we're used to looking. Once you get outside Detroit, there is a boom in well-paying auto industry jobs in the southern states, where overseas automakers have created 33,000 non-union jobs in the last five years, in facilities like NissanUSA's Smyrna, Tennessee facility (pictured). Meanwhile, 2005 car sales in the U.S. marked their third best year ever. And while GM and Ford cut production in 2005, total production in the U.S. remained the same. Finally, although import car sales are rising, to 3.4 million in 2005, they are still dwarfed by domestic production of 15.8 million. Continued after the jump. What about the quality of jobs in the auto industry? The new non-union jobs in the southern states pay nearly as well as their UAW equivalent, in a part of the country where the cost of living may well be lower. Health care benefits are similar, although retirement benefits are in the form of 401k plans instead of more generous pensions. And the jobs aren't all in manufacturing, either - foreign automakers' design centers are popping up across the country.

It would be wrong to suggest that the current restructuring of the industry is not painful and disruptive, particularly for the individuals involved. However, to a large extent it was inevitable. The worldwide trend to higher manufacturing productivity (which equals fewer manufacturing jobs) has had a striking impact on the auto industry, where the time to assemble an American car has fallen from 24 hours in 1999 to 20 hours today.

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