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Situation Bad...About to Get Worse

Over the last year, the U.S. government spent $80 million to prop up General Motors and Chrysler. The intent was to save millions of American manufacturing jobs. The benefits seem to be temporary, at best.

Both Chrysler and General Motors are reducing manufacturing capacity in the U.S. and shifting some of that capacity to Mexico. Over the next decade, Mexico is scheduled to gain most of the GM and Chrysler North American production that is discontinued in the United States. The reason isn’t hard to see. GM and Ford workers in the U.S. earn about $55 an hour, including benefits. The same workers in Mexico earn something less than $4 an hour.

Some in the government are upset about GM and Chrysler opening more facilities in Mexico, while U.S. facilities close. These people simply do not understand global economics. If GM and Chrysler keep their production in North America, all that will happen is that GM and Chrysler, backed by the U.S. tax payers and current shareholders, will pay for the excess wages that the domestic UAW employees now earn. If GM and Chrysler do not move their production facilities to places where costs are lower, other companies will do it for them and take their market share with better cars and lower prices. This has been the scenario for the domestic automobile manufacturers for the last twenty years.

No matter what the U.S. members of the UAW choose to do, their future is going to get worse. (See the Symptom & Implication “Foreign competitors are expanding with low prices” on StrategyStreet.com.) Workers in other countries can simply make automobiles cheaper than they can. Chennai, India is a good example. In 2010, this city will produce 1.5 million automobiles. That is well in excess of 10% of the U.S. domestic demand and more than any U.S. state produces. Many major automobile manufacturers have a presence in Chennai.

The investment there is growing much as it is in Mexico. Hyundai, Ford and Nissan are each investing heavily in facilities in Chennai. Hyundai can now produce 650,000 cars a year there. Nissan can produce 400,000 cars annually. This new capacity is coming into a market that already has significant overcapacity in global production facilities. When new low-cost competitors enter the marketplace, they squeeze out the high-cost competitors. Who are the high-cost competitors? Watch where facilities are closing. Oh oh, that seems to be the U.S., where the UAW is holding a significant price/cost umbrella over its low-cost worker competitors, among whom are the Indian and Mexican workers in this story.

This will not have a pretty ending for the United Auto Workers, neither for those working nor for retirees.

Posted 8/2/10

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