American auto manufacturers are selling cars and making profits again, so that means that our auto industry has recovered from its terrible collapse of just a few years ago. Right? The companies themselves have recovered, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going on a hiring spree just yet.
The problem isn’t money: automakers have that. They’re not selling record numbers of cars, but the prices are higher. If anything, their problem is an excess of caution. Instead of expanding existing plants and building new ones, automakers are pushing productivity and demanding more from the workers they have. “[H]ow long can this go on before you start having some issue with morale in the plants?” one industry expert asked NPR rhetorically. Factories are at 90% capacity, and how many man-hours it takes to assemble a car is way down. Productivity is good, but it means that you can’t gauge economic recovery by the number of new people on the payroll.
Automakers must have learned their lesson from 2008 and 2009: they’re not about to invest in capacity for business they don’t have yet. They’re hiring and expanding, but slowly and cautiously.