The Future of the Car Industry: From the Unionized Midwest to the Nonunion Foreign Plants in South
As Detroit's auto makers seek a government bailout, the resilience of their foreign rivals could vault the South to the forefront of the U.S. car industry. Foreign makers have been lured to South Carolina, Alabama and other Southern states over the past decade by generous tax benefits and laws that make it easier to build a largely nonunion work force.
That labor flexibility has emerged as a key advantage during the industry downturn, allowing foreign-owned plants to rapidly downshift in ways their unionized U.S. competitors cannot. Looser work rules are allowing German automaker BMW to lay off up to 733 employees at its Greer, S.C., plant by the end of the year. And Toyota said it plans to let go at least 250 people at a Georgetown, Ky., factory in the first quarter of 2009.
Such moves would be largely out of reach for the Big Three U.S. auto makers, which have been saddled with stricter labor rules as vehicle sales have plummeted. Union rules often guaranteed jobs for workers along with generous benefits and wages that surpass those of most other U.S. manufacturing sectors (see CD post on GM's "jobs bank").
The foreign manufacturers -- which are also reaping benefits of advanced production lines and a more popular lineup of models -- are positioned to grab market share from domestic competitors when demand revives. "If the American car companies died, this is what would replace them," said Laurie Harbour-Felax, an auto industry consultant.
~Today's WSJ: "South Could Gain as Detroit Struggles"