Vehicle and Parts Manufacturing
Despite news of plant closures and unemployed auto workers, the motor
vehicle and parts manufacturing industry continues to be one of the
largest employers in the country and a major contributor to our economy.
Motor vehicle and parts manufacturing is constantly evolving to improve
efficiency and provide products that consumers want in a highly
competitive market, which at times may mean outdated plants are forced
to close. It also means companies and workers must adapt more quickly to
changes in demand and production practices so that new technologies can
be implemented and work can be done on a number of different vehicles at
one time. Teamwork and continual retraining are key components to the
success of this industry and the ability of the workforce to adapt.
vehicle and parts manufacturers also have a major influence on other
industries in the economy as well. Building motor vehicles requires vast
quantities of materials from, and creates many jobs in, industries that
manufacture steel, rubber, plastics, glass, and other basic materials.
It also spurs employment for automobile and other motor vehicle dealers;
automotive repair and maintenance shops; gasoline stations; highway
construction companies; and automotive parts, accessories, and tire
The motor vehicles manufactured in this industry include automobiles,
sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), vans and pickup trucks, heavy duty
trucks, buses, truck trailers, and motor homes. It also includes the
manufacturing of the parts that go into these vehicles, such as the
engine, seats, brakes, and electrical systems. According to the Federal
Reserve, over 8 million motor vehicles were assembled in the U.S. in
2008. Building and assembling the many different parts of a car or truck
requires an amazingly complex design, manufacturing, and assembly
About 9,100 establishments manufactured motor vehicles and parts. These
ranged from small parts plants with only a few workers to huge assembly
plants that employ thousands. By far, the largest sector of this
industry is motor vehicle parts manufacturing. It has the most
establishments and the most workers. About 7 out of 10 establishments in
the industry manufactured motor vehicle parts—including electrical and
electronic equipment; engines and transmissions; brake systems; seating
and interior trim; steering and suspension components; air-conditioners;
and motor vehicle stampings, such as fenders, tops, body parts, trim,
distribution of employment and establishments in motor
vehicle and parts manufacturing by detailed industry
body and trailer manufacturing
Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment
and Wages, 2008.
The next largest
sector in terms of employment is motor vehicle manufacturing. In 2008,
about 22 percent of all workers in the overall motor vehicle
manufacturing industry were engaged in the assembly of motor vehicles. A
large number of these assembly plants are owned by foreign automobile
makers, known as "domestic internationals." These foreign automobile
manufacturers open assembly plants in the United States to be closer to
the U.S. market, avoid changing exchange rates, and reduce
typical automotive assembly plant is divided into three major sections.
In the first section, exterior body panels and the interior frame are
assembled and welded together. This work is mostly performed by robots,
but may also require some manual welding. During this stage, the body is
attached to a conveyor system that will move it through the entire
assembly process. Throughout the entire process, numerous inspections
are performed to ensure the quality of the work.
The painting process
comprises the second section of the assembly plant where bodies of cars
pass through a series of carefully ventilated, sealed paint rooms. Here,
the bodies are dipped into chemicals to prevent rust and seal the metal.
Then the bodies are primed, painted, and sealed with a clear coat.
Final assembly of the
vehicle comprises the third section of the automobile manufacturing
process. Here, parts such as the seats, dashboard, and powertrain
(engine and transmission) are installed. Although machines assist with
loading heavy parts, much of the assembly work is still performed by
team assemblers working with power tools.
The smallest sector in
terms of employment is motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing. In
2008, about one-fourth of establishments were engaged in this type of
manufacturing. These establishments specialized in manufacturing truck
trailers; motor homes; travel trailers; campers; and car, truck, and bus
bodies placed on separately purchased chassis.
U.S. auto industry has been severely affected by the recession that
began in December 2007. New car sales fell considerably, which caused
manufacturers to cut production and employment dramatically. In
addition, two of the three domestic automakers entered bankruptcy in
2009, although they have since emerged. While the domestic automakers
remain a critical part of the industry, motor vehicle and parts
manufacturing is increasingly a global industry, with "domestic"
vehicles produced using parts manufactured around the world and many
"foreign" firms producing on U.S. soil.
is rapidly changing due to environmental concerns and regulation. More
fuel-efficient vehicles, such as hybrid-electric cars that combine
gasoline engines with high-capacity, energy-storing batteries, have
quickly gained popularity in the industry. There has been some
experimentation with full electric and alternative fuel vehicles, but
these technologies have not yet become widespread, and research and
development for new types of environmentally friendly vehicles
In 2008, about 29 percent of workers in the motor vehicle and parts
manufacturing industry worked, on average, more than 40 hours per week.
Overtime is especially common during periods of peak demand.
Although working conditions have improved in recent years, some
production workers still are subject to uncomfortable conditions. Heat,
fumes, noise, and repetition are not uncommon in this industry. In
addition, many workers come into contact with oil and grease and may
have to lift and fit heavy objects, although hydraulic lifts and other
equipment have eliminated much of the heavy lifting. Employees also may
operate powerful, high-speed machines that can be dangerous. Accidents
and injuries usually are avoided when protective equipment and clothing
are worn and safety practices are observed. Additionally, companies use
carefully designed work stations and physical conditioning to reduce
injuries from repetitive motions.
As in other industries, professional and managerial workers normally
have clean, comfortable offices and are not subject to the hazards of
assembly line work. However, many supervisors and plant managers still
need to visit the assembly line and face some of the same hazards as
assembly line workers.
Motor vehicle and parts manufacturing was among the largest of the
manufacturing industries in 2008, providing 877,000 jobs. The majority
of jobs, about 62 percent, were in firms that make motor vehicle parts.
About 22 percent of workers in the industry were employed in firms
assembling complete motor vehicles, while about 16 percent worked in
firms producing truck trailers; motor homes; travel trailers; campers;
and car, truck, and bus bodies placed on separately purchased chassis.
Although motor vehicle
and parts manufacturing jobs are scattered throughout the Nation, jobs
are concentrated in the Midwest and South. Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana
combined account for almost half of all jobs in this industry. Other
States that account for significant numbers of jobs include Kentucky,
Tennessee, and California. Automotive employment is shifting away from
its traditional base in the Midwest to the southeastern States.
concentrated in a relatively small number of large establishments. About
49 percent of all motor vehicle and parts manufacturing jobs were in
establishments employing 500 or more workers. Motor vehicle
manufacturing employment, in particular, is concentrated in these large
establishments, whereas many motor vehicle parts manufacturing jobs are
found in small- and medium-sized establishments.
manufacturing corporations employ many additional workers in
establishments that are parts of other industries. Often the jobs in
corporate headquarters are in separate establishments and would be
classified as part of a different industry. Likewise, workers in
research and development (R&D) establishments that are separate from a
manufacturing facility are included in a separate industry—for example,
R&D in the physical, engineering, and life sciences. However, given the
importance of R&D work to the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing
industry, occupations and issues related to R&D are discussed below even
though some of their employment is not included in the motor vehicle
Paths into this Industry
to assembling components in the manufacturing plant, extensive design,
engineering, testing, and production planning go into the manufacture of
motor vehicles. These tasks often require years to complete and cost
millions of dollars.
Using artistic talent,
computers, and information on product use, marketing, materials, and
production methods, commercial and industrial designers create designs
they hope will make the vehicle competitive in the marketplace.
Designers use sketches and computer-aided design techniques to create
computer models of proposed vehicles. These computer models eliminate
the need for physical body mockups in the design process because they
give designers complete information on how each piece of the vehicle
will work with others. Workers may repeatedly modify and redesign models
until the models meet engineering, production, and marketing
specifications. Designers working in parts production increasingly
collaborate with manufacturers in the initial design stages to integrate
motor vehicle parts into the design specifications for each vehicle.
-- who form the largest professional contingent in the industry -- play
an integral role in all stages of motor vehicle manufacturing. They
oversee the building and testing of the engine, transmission, brakes,
suspension, and other mechanical and electrical components. Using
computers and assorted models, instruments, and tools, engineers
simulate various parts of the vehicle to determine whether each part
meets cost, safety, performance, and quality specifications. Mechanical
engineers design improvements for engines, transmissions, and other
working parts. Electrical and electronics engineers design the vehicle's
electrical and electronic systems, as well as industrial robot control
systems used to assemble the vehicle. Industrial engineers concentrate
on plant layout, including the arrangement of assembly line stations,
material-moving equipment, work standards, and other production matters.
Under the direction of
engineers, engineering technicians prepare specifications for materials,
devise and run tests to ensure product quality, and study ways to
improve manufacturing efficiency. For example, testing may reveal how
metal parts perform under conditions of heat, cold, and stress, and
whether emissions-control equipment meets environmental standards.
Finally, prototype vehicles incorporating all the components are built
and tested on test tracks, on road simulators, and in test chambers that
can duplicate almost every driving condition, including crashes.
analysts work with computer systems to improve manufacturing efficiency.
After working out the many details involved, computer specialists help
put in place the machinery and tools required for assembly line
production of the vehicle.
productivity improvements and foreign outsourcing of parts production
will cause employment to decline over the next decade. Overall wage and
salary employment in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry
is expected to decline by 16 percent over the 2008-18 period, compared
with 11 percent growth for all industries combined. Although more
automobiles and light trucks will be manufactured in the U.S. over this
period, productivity improvements will enable manufacturers to produce
these vehicles and parts with fewer workers.
The growing intensity of international and domestic competition has
increased cost pressures on manufacturers. In response, they have sought
to improve productivity and quality with high-technology production
techniques, including computer-assisted design, production, and testing.
In addition to automation, both domestic and foreign-based manufacturers
will reduce costs by shifting some parts and vehicle production to lower
automation, robotics, efficiency gains, and the need to cut costs will
cause nearly all production occupations to decline, but some occupations
will decline more than others. Increasing automation will negatively
affect employment of basic machine operator occupations more so than it
will affect the skilled workers that operate and program robots.
Assemblers who only perform one or two tasks will be replaced by team
assemblers who are interchangeable on a team and can perform multiple
functions. Greater automation will boost demand for maintenance workers
who service and repair the robots and automated systems essential to a
of management, computer, office, and administrative support occupations
will also decline as the number of production workers, whom these
workers manage, supervise, and support, declines.
Job prospects. Due to the increasingly automated and sophisticated
nature of motor vehicle manufacturing and assembly, employers are
seeking a better educated workforce. Applicants for assembly jobs will
likely face competition, but opportunities will be best for those with a
2-year degree in a technical area. Applicants for maintenance jobs
should also face competition. As automakers shift to multi-skilled
maintenance personnel, opportunities will be best for those with skills
across a range of areas, such as hydraulics, electronics, and welding.
Employers use screening tests for new applicants and state that both
strong math and communication skills are necessary to pass these tests.
Employment in the
automobile manufacturing industry follows economic cycles, therefore it
can be volatile. It is common for workers to get laid off as production
slows, then possibly rehired when production picks up again. Job
openings are expected due to the large number of auto workers who will
retire in the coming decade. Some of the foreign plants built in the
1980s will see high turnover as a large proportion of their workers
retire. Overall, job applicants will face keen competition, but highly
skilled workers will have the best employment prospects.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.