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In a World of Robots, Carmakers Are Hiring More Humans

Sept. 19, 2018
Major car companies boosted staff by 11% over past four years.

Car-industry employees concerned that robots will put them out of work needn’t worry -- at least for now.

Of the 13 publicly traded automakers with at least 100,000 workers at the end of their most-recent fiscal year, 11 had more staff compared with year-end 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Combined, they had 3.1 million employees, or 11% more than four years earlier, the data show.

Carmakers in China and other emerging markets, where growth is strongest, favor human labor because it requires less upfront investment, said Steve Man, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Hong Kong. In developed markets, tasks that can be handled by robots have already been automated years ago and automakers are now boosting hiring in research and development as the industry evolves.

“There’s been a lot of growth in emerging markets, especially China, so that’s one reason automakers are adding staff,” Man said. “More staff is being added on the R&D side, with the push for autonomous, electric, connected vehicles.”

A trio of Chinese automakers, SAIC Motor Corp., Dongfeng Motor Group and BYD Co. -- in which Warren Buffett is a major investor -- increased staff by at least 24%. Volkswagen AG accounted for more than one in five jobs among the group of 13, and increased its employee count by 12% in the period.

General Motors Co., which shrank its payroll 18% to 180,000, and Nissan Motor Co., which contracted by 2.8% to 139,000 workers, were the sole carmakers whose staffs got smaller, the data show. GM’s numbers were affected by the sale of its European division to PSA Group last year.

About 40% of autoworkers were women in 2017, compared with 38% four years earlier, based on data from about 30 of the largest vehicle producers worldwide. The analysis didn’t take into account wages or location of the workers.

Software Hiring Exceeds Hardware

Auto companies are hiring more for software positions than hardware roles to prepare for a future in which more vehicles are communicating with each other and their surroundings, Man said. The rising popularity of electric cars is also set to cause an upheaval at manufacturers that make parts for internal-combustion engines.

Total vehicle production worldwide in 2017 rose 11% to 97 million units, compared with 2013. Chinese plants cranked out 30% of all vehicles last year, followed by 12% in the U.S., 10% in Japan, 6% in Germany and 5% in India.

Five of the top 12 producing nations -- it took 2 million units to qualify last year -- were in Asia, three in North America, three in Europe and one in South America.

Global vehicle sales totaled 85 million units last year, an increase of 11% from 2013. Half of those sales last year were in the Asia-Pacific region, a slight uptick because the proportion from Latin America fell from four years earlier with demand waning in Brazil.

By Lee Miller

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