Jobs growth slows at Japanese auto plants in U.S.

DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Japanese automakers and their suppliers added jobs in the U.S. at a slower pace in 2013 than in 2012, as they continued to expand in Mexico and elsewhere to reduce the impact of currency fluctuations.

Automakers based in Japan directly employed 82,816 workers in the U.S. last year, up 2.2 percent from 2012, according to a study released today by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. That rate compared with a 12 percent jump in 2012.

U.S. new-vehicle dealers for Japanese-brand automakers directly employed another 319,568 people in 2013, but the study didn't offer a comparison with previous years.

Mexico passed Japan as the No. 2 exporter of cars to the U.S. as of June, bolstered by new plants from Japanese carmakers Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. Automakers from the Asian nation have increasingly looked to locate factories outside their home country to gird against currency fluctuations. The yen weakened against the Mexican peso and the U.S. dollar in the 12 months through Aug. 14, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“You just have to deal with the consequences of changing circumstances,” said Rutgers University economics professor Thomas Prusa, the study’s author. “One way to do that is to diversify global production.”

Toyota, which is consolidating its North American headquarters in Texas from California, reported a 7.4 percent jump in U.S. sales in 2013, the industry’s best year since 2007. Nissan’s deliveries rose 9.4 percent, while Mazda saw a gain of 2.5 percent. Honda’s increased 7.2 percent.

Light-vehicle sales in the U.S. rose 7.6 percent to 15.6 million last year, when Japanese automakers added almost 1,800 jobs. Their suppliers and the intermediate companies they do business with saw an increase of 2.8 percent to 224,000 workers.

For the first seven months of 2014, U.S. auto sales rose 5 percent. Toyota gained 6 percent over the same period. Honda sales have fallen 1 percent, Mazda rose 9 percent, Nissan is up 13 percent, and Subaru gained 18 percent.  

Automakers have been globalizing for decades and expanding in the U.S. has been key for Japanese companies, said Ron Bookbinder, general director of JAMA USA.

“Japanese automakers like to build where demand exists, and there’s a lot of demand in the United States,” Bookbinder said in an interview.

Automotive News contributed to this report.

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