Nature of the Industry
Despite news of plant closures and unemployed auto workers, the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry continues to be one of the largest employers in the country and a major contributor to our economy’s success. Motor vehicle and parts manufacturing is continually evolving to improve efficiency and provide products that consumers want in a highly competitive market, which at times may mean outdated plants are forced to close. It also means companies and workers must adapt more quickly to changes in demand and production practices so that new technologies can be implemented and work can be done on a number of different vehicles at one time. Teamwork and continual retraining are key components to the success of this industry and the ability of the workforce to adapt.
Motor vehicle and parts manufacturers also have a major influence on other industries in the economy as well. Building motor vehicles requires vast quantities of materials from, and creates many jobs in, industries that manufacture steel, rubber, plastics, glass, and other basic materials. It also spurs employment for automobile and other motor vehicle dealers; automotive repair and maintenance shops; gasoline stations; highway construction companies; and automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores.
Goods and services. The motor vehicles manufactured in this industry include: automobiles, sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), vans and pickup trucks, heavy duty trucks, buses, truck trailers and motor homes. It also includes the manufacturing of the parts that go into these vehicles, such as the engine, seats, brakes, and electrical systems. Building and assembling the many different parts of a car or truck requires an amazingly complex design, manufacturing, and assembly process.
Industry organization. In 2006, about 9200 establishments manufactured motor vehicles and parts. These ranged from small parts plants with only a few workers to huge assembly plants that employ thousands. By far, the largest sector of this industry is motor vehicle parts manufacturing. It has the most establishments and the most workers. About 7 out of 10 establishments in the industry manufactured motor vehicle parts—including electrical and electronic equipment; engines and transmissions; brake systems; seating and interior trim; steering and suspension components; air-conditioners; and motor vehicle stampings, such as fenders, tops, body parts, trim, and molding.
The next largest sector, in terms of number of establishments, is motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing. In 2006, nearly one-fourth of establishments were engaged in this type of manufacturing. These establishments specialized in manufacturing truck trailers; motor homes; travel trailers; campers; and car, truck, and bus bodies placed on separately purchased chassis.
Automotive and light truck assembly plants make up the third largest sector. In 2006, about 5 percent of establishments that employ 23 percent of all workers in this industry, were engaged in assembling these smaller motor vehicles. A growing number of these assembly plants are owned by foreign automobile makers, known as “domestic internationals.”
A typical automotive assembly plant can be divided into three major sections. In the first section, exterior body panels and interior frame are assembled and welded together. This work is mostly performed by robots, but may also require some manual welding. During this stage, the body is attached to a conveyor system that will move it through the entire assembly process. Throughout the entire process, numerous inspections are performed to ensure the quality of the work.
The painting process comprises the second section of the assembly plant where bodies of cars pass through a series of carefully ventilated, sealed paint rooms. Here, the bodies are dipped into chemicals to prevent rust and seal the metal. Then the bodies are primed, painted, and sealed with a clear coat.
Assembly of the vehicle comprises the third section of the automobile manufacturing process. Here, parts such as seats, dashboard, and the powertrain (engine and transmission) are installed. While machines assist with loading heavy parts, much of the assembly work is still performed by team assemblers working with power tools.