The number of vehicles manufactured in the United States peaked in the late 1970’s just shy of 10 million (9.92 million), and in 2019 was down to 2.63 million – despite the substantial increase in population over time (1970, US Population was 203 million, 2020 is 330 million). Some of that can be attributed to the fact that today’s cars last much longer, and a much higher percentage are not manufactured in the US. So, if they are being made in the U.S., where are they manufactured? Using our business-based data, we looked at auto manufacturing employment in the U.S.
Nationwide, manufacturing employment peaked in 1978 at 19.5 million (FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis) with automobile manufacturing as the largest component – General motors alone had peak domestic employment in 1979 of 620,000 employees (AP, GM: History and an Automaker, 27 May 2009). At the time, General Motors was the largest employer in the world. Today, they employ around 216,000 employees, which makes them the 22nd largest employer, excluding government offices. The three largest auto employers, General Motors, Ford, and FCA (the manufacturers of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Fiat, etc.) account for 346,000 total employees, which is only about 56% of the total number of General Motors employees had 40 years ago.
Total manufacturing unemployment, which includes automobile manufacturing and auto parts, is now at 585,000 total employees nationwide, which is still less than what GM alone employed in 1978. Today, all auto workers make up 94% of the total number of GM employees in 1978.
We took a look at where these 585,000 employees are located here in the U.S. As you can see from the map below, long gone are the days where most auto workers were located in Detroit. Of the 86,000 current Ford employees, nearly 50,000 are located in Michigan. For many of the auto makers, however, the distribution of employees has shifted from Michigan to include major employment in a number of different states across the U.S.
Southern California has become a popular headquarters for many car manufacturers, accounting for the growth in that area. In Texas, a new plant in Arlington for General Motors, and Toyota’s move to Dallas account for the employees in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Kansas City and St. Louis have also seen growth over the last few years, where Ford and General Motors have moved some manufacturing. In the south, many manufacturers have moved to Alabama, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Hyundai has opened a facility in Mobile, Alabama, while Nissan selected Smyrna, Tennessee for their factory. BMW occupies a 4 million square foot facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which opened in 1999.
While fewer and fewer cars are being manufactured in the U.S., and the landscape of largest employers has also changed, auto manufacturing still plays a major role in the economies of many U.S. cities.