Automakers shift plants to Mexico
DETROIT — Mexico has become the most attractive place in North America to build new automobile factories, a shift that has siphoned jobs from the U.S. and Canada, yet helped keep car and truck prices in check for consumers.
In the past two years, eight automakers have opened or announced new plants or expansions in Mexico. Just last week, Toyota announced a new plant in Guanajuato to build the popular Corolla, work now done in Canada, while Ford unveiled plans for Mexican engine and transmission factories.
Low labor costs and fewer tariffs are the swing factors. A worker in Mexico costs car companies an average of $8 an hour, including wages and benefits. That compares with $58 in the U.S. for General Motors and $38 at Volkswagen's factory in Tennessee, the lowest hourly cost in the U.S., according to the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. German auto workers cost about $52 an hour.
Free trade: Mexico also trumps the U.S. on free trade. It has agreements with 45 countries, meaning low tariffs for exporting globally. That plus low labor costs, convinced Audi to build an SUV factory in the state of Puebla. The German automaker will save $6,000 per vehicle in tariffs when it ships a Q5 to Europe, compared with building the same vehicle in the U.S., says Sean McAlinden, chief economist at CAR.
Audi also sells the Q5 in the U.S., where tariffs on cars built in Mexico were dropped under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The cost savings also should allow automakers to add expensive fuel-saving features to meet stricter U.S. government gas mileage requirements without raising car prices. Two-thirds of cars made in Mexico are shipped to the U.S.
While Mexico's auto industry booms and workers welcome the above-average wages, they are speaking out more loudly about working conditions.
Mexican auto production more than doubled in the past 10 years. The consulting firm IHS Automotive expects it to rise another 50 percent to just under 5 million by 2022. U.S. production is expected to increase only 3 percent, to 12.2 million vehicles, in the next 7 years.
18 factories: Automakers now have 18 factories in Mexico, many built in the past 10 years. In four years, five more will be built, moving Mexico from the world's seventh-biggest auto producer to fifth.
The shift means jobs that could have gone to the U.S. or Canada went south. The number of auto-making jobs in Mexico has risen almost 40 percent since 2008, from 490,000 to 675,000 last year, according to government and industry statistics. During the same period, U.S. auto manufacturing employment grew 15 percent to nearly 903,000.
Toyota's new plant will create 2,000 new jobs, while Ford's $2.5 billion investment will add 3,800 jobs.