On the Job Hunt: Hiring outlook bright for auto industry

The auto industry has become a bright spot in the economy. Foreign and domestic manufacturers are hiring thousands of workers at U.S. plants to meet a resurgence in consumer demand.

"This could be the first year that we could really term the auto industry recovered," said Marty Padgett, editorial director at High Gear Media. "Back in 2008, car sales had plummeted down to below 13.5 million units. This year, we'll be above 14.5 (million). And next year, we could be back to 15."

Foreign automakers BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo announced new jobs in 2012. Many of these foreign companies operate non-union plants in "right to work" states in the Southeast.

But the "Big Three" domestic automakers, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, are also creating thousands of new jobs, as well as reinstating the positions of some of their original employees.

"Some of the people who lost their jobs during the bankruptcies have been rehired," Padgett said. "But sometimes they're hired at lower rates. That's part of the deal that the (United Auto Workers Union) struck with bankruptcy courts and with the automakers."

The increase in auto manufacturing jobs is likely to have a multiplier effect in other parts of the economy. According to a 2010 analysis by the Center for Automotive Research, each auto manufacturing job generates nine indirect jobs at places such as part suppliers, advertising agencies and restaurants -- as well as car dealerships.

The return of consumer demand that's driving the increased production appears to be the result of a series of factors.

"Consumer confidence seems to be growing," said Jim Roberts, a salesman at Nalley Lexus Roswell in suburban Atlanta. "We're statistically up. We have more people coming through the doors every day looking for both new and pre-owned vehicles."

"We're seeing a shift from a need buyer to a want buyer," said Craig Monaghan, CEO of Asbury Automotive Group, which owns 77 dealerships around the country. "And I think with all this exciting new product in the marketplace today, that's helping that trend. I think the other thing that's very important is the change in the credit markets."

With lending and consumer confidence increasing, so are the jobs.