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GM, Chrysler to fill 2,000 engineer spots


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GM, Chrysler to fill 2,000 engineer spots

High-paid talent needed as they expand hybrids, small car lineups

Christina Rogers and Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC will ramp up hiring of engineers and other technical staff, creating a combined 2,000 high-tech jobs in the region to bolster development of everything from small cars to electric vehicles.

high-tech jobs in the region to bolster development of everything from small cars to electric vehicles.

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GM said Tuesday that it will hire 1,000 engineers and researchers in Michigan during the next two years to expand its in-house expertise for developing future generations of hybrid and electric cars, including the extended-range Chevrolet Volt.

CEO Daniel Akerson announced the jobs Tuesday during a celebration at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant to mark the plug-in Volt's arrival in the marketplace. The Detroit automaker will begin delivering the $41,000 car to dealers in some parts of the country in December and expand sales nationwide in 2012.

Chrysler also said Tuesday it will hire 1,000 engineers and high-tech employees to develop a lineup of small and midsize vehicles under its partnership with Fiat SpA.

Most of the new hires will work out of the company's Auburn Hills headquarters and technical center, officials said. Of the new hires, about 60 percent will be on the payroll and 40 percent will on contract, said spokesman Mike Palese.

The Auburn Hills automaker said it is recruiting on 35 college campuses and seeking resumes in a bid to add the professionals by April.

GM and Chrysler's hiring plans are one sign the industry could be rebounding for Metro Detroit's engineering work force.

Auto suppliers, too, have resumed adding research and development staff after making deep cuts to their work force during the economic downturn.

About 80 percent of auto suppliers polled in a recent survey by the Original Equipment Suppliers Association said they plan to add to their technical and engineering staffs within the next six months, said Dave Andrea, a senior vice president for the 300-member, Troy-based trade group. Companies are hiring engineers cut during the downturn, as well as expanding R&D for new vehicle technologies, including electric cars, he added.

"Without a doubt, the supplier community will mirror the product plans of the vehicle manufacturer," Andrea said.

GM and Chrysler let go tens of thousands of employees in Michigan during the past two years as the recession deepened and the two companies underwent bankruptcy restructuring.

GM cut 5,000 salaried and 16,000 blue-collar jobs last year alone, including 35 percent of its executive ranks.

Chrysler had 47,800 employees, with 32,250 in the United States, at the end of 2009. That was down from 82,280 at the end of 2006, including 64,750 in the United States.

But with U.S. auto sales on the upswing and finances improving, GM and Chrysler are replenishing their work forces.

"We've seen quite a boost this year," said Martha Schanno, recruitment sales manager for the Society of Automotive Engineers in Warrendale, Pa.

"We're thrilled to see this trend going in the right way," she said, noting the past few years have been rough for automotive engineers. New job openings were scarce, and the pool of unemployed engineers grew as companies downsized.

GM's core areas

At GM, new engineers will work on battery technology, electric motors and power control technology — core areas of expertise the automaker wants to develop. Akerson called the hiring the "first step in a long journey," as GM is determined to be a leader in this field by having this expertise in-house.

Akerson said he wouldn't bet against breakout battery technology that allows a car to go 300 or 400 miles on electricity alone in the next 15 years.

The CEO said more production jobs could be needed in the future, as the company considers ways to increase Volt production beyond the 45,000 vehicles planned for 2012.

"There are studies under way to see what we could do if we had to double production or triple production," he said.

A Volt derivative, the Opel Ampera, goes on sale in Europe next year, and more models for other parts of the world are being explored. Akerson said the first-generation Volt is being made "close to cost" but the timeline for second and third generations includes reducing battery and other costs and increasing volume.

The 1,000 jobs will increase GM's global engineering staff for vehicle electrification by 50 percent, bringing the total to 3,000 worldwide, said Micky Bly, GM's executive director of electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries.

The new hires will work mostly at three locations — the Warren Tech Center, Milford Proving Grounds and a Powertrain research center in Pontiac.

The hiring is tied to state tax incentives, including a Michigan Economic Growth Authority incentive deal approved in October for 900 jobs at GM's Warren facility, GM officials said.

Bly said developing its electric vehicle programs has been so important to GM that it has continued to add engineers to this area — hiring about 200 a year — during the past three years.

"Even through bankruptcy, we were the only part of the company allowed to continue hiring," Bly said.

Chrysler to revamp line

The hiring at Chrysler comes as the automaker revamps its lineup with more Fiat-engineered small and midsize vehicles.

Chrysler decimated its work force, including the elimination of 12,000 salaried workers in one fell swoop two years ago, as part of the restructuring that led up to bankruptcy in 2009.

The automaker emerged from bankruptcy in June 2009, formed a partnership with Fiat and began work on overhauling its product lineup.

Chrysler's limited resources were taxed with developing 16 new vehicles for the 2011 model year; most were significant modifications of current vehicles.

To restore its ranks, the automaker has hired close to 5,000 employees, hourly and salaried, since June 2009. That figure includes at least 500 engineers, many as contract employees.

Additional engineers are now needed to develop completely new vehicles based on a new Fiat-engineered family of compact and midsize vehicles. The first will be a Dodge sedan, due at the end of 2011, to replace the Caliber.

A year later, replacements for most of Chrysler's midsize cars and crossovers will come from the same underpinnings.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20101201/AUTO01/12010354/GM--Chrysler-to-fill-2-000-engineer-spots#ixzz16s4HvVEH

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