Automakers are pushing factories and workers
Automakers are pushing factories and workers to the limit to try to meet burgeoning demand for new vehicles.Some plants are adding third work shifts. Others are piling on worker overtime and six-day weeks. And Ford Motor and Chrysler Group are cutting out or reducing the annual two-week July shutdown at several plants this summer to add thousands of vehicles to their output.
The Detroit plant making the Jeep Grand Cherokee is working overtime five days a week and many Saturdays. "That's extra money in their pocket, but (there's) a toll it's taking on the workers," says spokeswoman Jodi Tinson. Chrysler is adding 1,100 jobs on a third shift to ease the problem. It also just added 1,800 workers in Belvidere, Ill., to make the new Dodge Dart."We have many plants working at maximum capacity now," says Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans. "We're building as many (cars) as we can."
The auto recovery is a bright spot in the slow economic comeback, and President Obama has made it a cornerstone of his re-election campaign, saying his team saved Chrysler and General Motors with the government-run bankruptcies it says were the only alternative to collapse.
Republican rival Mitt Romney says the auto companies could have gone through a more normal bankruptcy, with government loan guarantees only part of the process.
The automakers' problem now is one they welcome:
It's hot demand. Sales for 2012 are estimated at 14.3 million vehicles, according to IHS Automotive, up from 12.8 million last year.
Since the boom years when the industry made about 16 million vehicles a year, automakers have slimmed down for the new reality. They have no excess capacity but don't want to open new plants and risk having to repeat the recent painful and expensive closings if demand falters. They vow never again to have too many factories making too many cars that then required huge sales incentives to move.
So as demand rises, they push existing plants and workers harder. "Some of the folks are working 60 hours a week, week after week," says Kim Hill, director of economic development strategies for the Center for Automotive Research."When do you back up against a wall and you can't run your workers any longer?"
Not eager to find out, some makers are hiring:
- Volkswagen. Adding 800 workers will allow VW's Chattanooga, Tenn., plant to run 20 hours a day, six days a week making Passat sedans
- Hyundai. A new third shift of 877 is being added at its Montgomery, Ala., plant.
- Toyota. More than 1,000 jobs are being added at five U.S. plants. Most plants already are using overtime and Saturdays. "In most of our plants, we're maxed out," says Toyota spokesman Mike Goss.