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As of 2012, nearly 254 million vehicles were registered in the United States. Americans have come to equate owning a vehicle with freedom—freedom to travel, work, and enjoy leisure activities. Since American families are often on the go, it is becoming more prevalent for families to own one car per parent, and one car for older children, so that they can transport other family members to activities and functions. All of this is made possible by the automotives manufacturing industry.
Making cars, motorcycles, trucks, and other vehicles is big business, but the automotives industry is also in the midst of many changes. The industry is made up of companies and workers who manufacture and deliver cars, trucks, and other vehicles to companies that sell them. Companies in the automotive industry fall into one of two primary segments: car manufacturers and car parts manufacturers. Today’s vehicles are more complex and involve many more parts and electronics than in years past. That has led to an increase in the number of parts manufactured by suppliers rather than manufacturers.
Since car manufacturing is expensive, there are smaller numbers of manufacturers in the industry. In the United States, there are three leading vehicle manufacturers: Ford, General Motors (GM), and Chrysler (Fiat S.p.A now owns more than 50 percent of Chrysler). On a global basis, world leaders include Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Hyundai.
The automotive industry began in the late 1800s, when German inventors Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler developed a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. However, cars were expensive and did not attain a wide market until Henry Ford developed his assembly-line method for mass producing them. As more people began to own cars throughout the following 30 to 40 years, people began to view them as a necessity. Owning a car led to more freedom and options for those who owned them. They could work across town or in the next city. They could travel across the state or across the country to visit friends or relatives. Gasoline was cheap and the United States had huge oil reserves, so owning a car led to opportunities and freedoms previously unattainable. Over the years, environmental concerns, new technologies, and economic conditions have shaped the industry into its present form.
When it comes to employment, there are many types of jobs available in the industry. At manufacturing plants, workers are line workers or supervisors, quality control workers or inspectors, supervisors, managers, engineers, designers, safety engineers, and executives. In addition, there are people who provide the routine business operations any organization needs, such as accounting, marketing and advertising, and human resources. On the supplier side, the same types of workers are required. Sales professionals also play an important role at these companies.
The automotive industry is vital to the United States economy and workforce. According to the Auto Alliance, the industry employs at least 10,000 workers in 47 states; in 20 of those states, the industry employs 100,000 or more workers.
Historically, workers in the industry have been sharply divided as either union workers, who usually receive an hourly wage, or nonunion workers, who typically receive a salary. Car manufacturing workers enjoyed large salaries and benefits through the 1980s, but economic challenges led to management’s desire to cut costs, especially in salaries and benefits or in cutting the number of jobs. This has resulted in management-labor disputes and strikes over the years.