Recap of the Automotive Insights Conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago–Detroit Branch, Detroit Association of Business Economists, and WardsAuto

By Martin Lavelle

On January 12, 2017, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit Branch, the Detroit Association of Business Economists (DABE), and WardsAuto hosted the inaugural Automotive Insights Conference. The conference was an expansion of the DABE’s annual Bob Fish Memorial Automotive Luncheon. As did the luncheon, the conference provided an opportunity for auto industry analysts to share their insights and forecasts for the coming year. The expanded conference format allowed for additional presentations that covered powertrain production schedules and upcoming regulatory requirements for new vehicles.

Sales Outlook

Haig Stoddard (WardsAuto) said that new light vehicle sales reached 17.5 million units in 2016, eclipsing the previous record of 17.4 million units set in 2015. The surge in new light vehicle sales seen in the fourth quarter of 2016 was correlated with the aggressive incentives offered by auto companies. New auto sales have now increased for seven consecutive years—the longest such streak since before the Great Depression. Against this backdrop, Stoddard forecasted a slight step back in sales to 17.3 million units in 2017.

Consumers are in a better position to enter the market for new vehicles, contended Paul Traub (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago–Detroit Branch). He showed that consumer sentiment has been improving, indicating the people are becoming more open to buying new vehicles. In addition to the aggressive incentives offered by auto dealers, loans with longer terms than normal (typically lowering the monthly payments), falling household debt, and fairly easy access to auto credit are facilitating new car purchases. Stoddard and Traub argued the pent-up demand for new vehicles stemming from the Great Recession has been satisfied.

Stoddard’s long-term sales outlook called for a further slide in light vehicle sales in 2018 followed by a rebound. While Stoddard’s outlook did not include a recession, he indicated that if a mild recession were to occur, new light vehicle sales would be 1.5 million to 2.0 million units lower four years from now. Stoddard said the long-run trend for new light vehicles sales would reach 17.0 million units by 2025. That sales level would then become the new standard for whether or not it was a good year for new light vehicle sales. New light vehicle sales will exceed long-run expectations if consumer demand for the latest vehicle technology accelerates. In contrast, new light vehicle sales will fall short of long-run expectations if consumers are enticed by deals for used vehicles, young people continue to delay household formation (on account of student debt and other reasons), and telecommuting becomes even more popular than it is today, among other factors.

Future Direction of Vehicle Production

Little to no growth in new light vehicle production is expected for the U.S. over the next few years, with gains made elsewhere, according to Stoddard and John Sousanis (WardsAuto). Stoddard predicted that North American production will rise over 500,000 units over the next seven years because of increased production of small cars and crossover utility vehicles in Mexico and lower production in Canada. Sousanis also said he projected the light vehicle production share of cars and trucks to stay the same globally over the coming years, but these shares are anticipated to vary more by region. Turning to his forecasts for auto parts manufacturing, he said that more than 50% of the growth in powertrain production over the next seven years will occur in China. Moreover, internal combustion engine displacement and the average number of cylinders in a vehicle should continue to move downward, but remain relatively higher among vehicles sold in the North American market. Slightly more diversification among transmission types is expected among future vehicles, stated Sousanis.

The diversity in transmission production will partially result from manufacturers employing different technologies to comply with the federal government’s corporate fuel economy (and emissions) requirements by model year 2025. (1) Brett Smith (Center for Automotive Research) outlined how the auto industry is trying to meet these standards. By utilizing different technologies, the auto industry is innovating faster than originally anticipated by regulators. For instance, battery cell producers have lowered their cost structures earlier than anticipated—with much less capital and smaller economies of scale than thought necessary. (2) Yet, the current pace of innovation is not sufficient, according to Smith, as the auto industry is still “nowhere near” on track to achieve the 2025 fuel economy goals.

To help manufacturers meet the fuel economy standards, Smith contended that regulators need to provide more incentives and infrastructure that support consumer demand for battery electric and hybrid vehicles. Additionally, the federal government should offer more “emissions credits” for introducing electric or hybrid technologies, off-cycle technologies, (3) and similar innovations in their vehicles than at present. In general, Smith said further discussions about the timetable for achieving the 2025 fuel economy targets should be held between industry representatives and federal regulators. In response to some of Smith’s points, Sousanis said perhaps the federal government might consider differentiating fuel economy standards by vehicle class (e.g., subcompact, mid-size and standard sport utility vehicle).

Concluding the conference was a conversation between Dave Andrea (Center for Automotive Research) and Joe Anderson (TAG Holdings). The conversation centered on the leadership style of Anderson, who serves as TAG Holdings’ chairman and CEO, and his 30-plus years of experience in the auto industry. Anderson said he always learned a lot about each business he purchased before setting expectations for his staff. Those expectations focused on the following aspects of the business: product quality, cost, technology, and delivery.

Focusing on the first item on his list, Anderson said he believes quality control systems should be installed before the production process begins. This way the quality control process won’t be perceived as just a corrective experience. According to Anderson, quality control processes, while costly in the short run, will have long-term positive impacts on throughput and financial performance. In closing, Anderson advised those in the audience to design and engineer their products to fit their consumers’ preferences.

Conclusion

Consumers are in a more favorable position to buy vehicles today than they were shortly after the Great Recession. This has boosted analysts’ short-term forecasts for automotive sales. However, the long-term sales outlook is less certain. While there’s proven demand for the latest vehicle technology, especially among young consumers, they may delay their new vehicle purchases because many of them have yet to form their own households. On the production side, growth is expected in Mexico and China. But not much production growth is expected for the U.S. Vehicle producers are striving to hit federally mandated fuel economy (and emissions) standards by model year 2025, but this goal currently seems unattainable. Despite producers’ ability to innovate more quickly than expected, they remain “nowhere near” on track to hit the 2025 fuel economy targets. More dialogue between auto producers and regulators is needed to ensure that the fuel economy standards are met in a timely and reasonable fashion. Finally, greater dialogue between management and workers, as well as between automakers and consumers, can help improve product quality and customer satisfaction.

Are Businesses Returning to Detroit?

by Martin Lavelle, business economist

Introduction

Detroit’s population fell by almost 50% from its peak of 1.85 million in 1950 (1) to around 950,000 in 2000. Since 2000 (2), Detroit’s population has declined at a faster rate. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Detroit’s population stood at 680,250 as of 2014 (3). As Detroit’s population migrated elsewhere, so did many of its businesses. How many businesses have left the Motor City since around the turn of the twenty-first century? And are new businesses replacing them in the aftermath of the Great Recession (which ended in mid-2009)?

In this blog entry, I will address these questions by using the County Business Patterns (CBP) data series from the U.S. Census Bureau. The CBP data series provide the number of business establishments (4) by county and zip code. The business establishments reported in the data are sorted by employment size classes. In addition, CBP data sets provide employment and payroll data. CBP data are collected on an annual basis, but with a two-year lag. Here I will analyze business patterns by geography and industry among Detroit zip codes (and elsewhere) between 1998 and 2013.

Analysis

Figure 1 shows a map of Detroit by zip code. The zip codes shown below were used to analyze the change in the number of business establishments in Detroit over the period 1998–2013 (5).

2016 0208 figure 1

Figure 1. Map of Detroit zip codes
Source: Lowell Boileau, available at http://www.atdetroit.net/forum/messages/107211/106465.jpg.

Table 1. Percent change in number of Detroit business establishments, by zip code, 1998–2013
2016 0208 table 1

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, County Business Patterns.

For each Detroit zip code area listed in table 1, I include the prominent neighborhoods and/or landmarks found within it.

Overall, the number of Detroit business establishments decreased 22.3% over the period 1998–2013, according to my calculations using CBP data. As of 2013, the city of Detroit was home to 8,817 business establishments. Approximately one-eighth of these establishments can be found in Downtown Detroit—which saw a similar share of its businesses depart as the city as a whole did over the sample period. Zip code areas that fared relatively better than the city in terms of business retention between 1998 and 2013 contain the Midtown/New Center area along Woodward Avenue, Eastern Market, some areas along East Jefferson Avenue parallel to the Detroit River, and southwest Detroit (including Corktown). These centers of commercial activity are now leading Detroit’s turnaround. Zip code areas that saw a larger percentage of their businesses leave relative to what the city as a whole experienced contain some of Detroit’s struggling neighborhoods—which include East English Village adjacent to Harper Woods and the Grosse Pointes, as well as areas near and around the old Packard plant in Detroit’s eastern industrial corridor (6).

Anyone familiar with Detroit’s narrative will likely be able to give several reasons why its business activity has declined over the past few decades. Besides the outward migration of the residential population, the downsizing and suburbanization of the local manufacturing industry, the deterioration of the city’s talent base as a result of the struggles of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS), government corruption, and the worsening condition of the city’s infrastructure are just some of the contributors to Detroit’s downward trend in business activity.

Given the narrative about Detroit, it is natural to wonder how its recent business losses compare with those of its surrounding areas. Table 2 shows the change in the number of establishments by selected areas in 1998 versus 2013. The national numbers are also given to provide another basis of comparison.

Table 2. Number of business establishments, 1998 versus 2013, and percent change in the number of business establishments, 1998–2013, by selected areas

2016 0208 table 2

Note: MSA stands for metropolitan statistical area; for further details on the Detroit MSA, see http://www.census.gov/population/estimates/metro-city/0312msa.txt.
Source: Author’s calculations based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, County Business Patterns.

Table 2 shows that despite the 2001 and 2007–09 recessions, the number of business establishments in the nation as a whole increased over the period 1998–2013. However, the number of business establishments declined throughout most of Michigan during this time. Wayne County (including Detroit) and the Detroit metropolitan statistical area (MSA)—encompassing Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties—experienced less severe business losses than the city of Detroit. Nearby Washtenaw County, whose county seat is Ann Arbor (7), still saw a slight drop in the number of business establishments over the sample period, but fared much better relative to the city of Detroit.

When examining industry business patterns in the city of Detroit, it is not surprising to find that in percentage terms, manufacturing experienced the greatest loss of businesses over the period 1998–2013. Table 3 shows the change in the number of business establishments by industry during the sample period.

Table 3. Number of business establishments, 1998 versus 2013, and percent change in the number of business establishments, 1998–2013, in the city of Detroit, by industry

2016 0208 table 3

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, County Business Patterns.

One may be somewhat surprised by which subsectors of manufacturing experienced the greatest losses of business establishments (not shown). When analyzing the business pattern data by NAICS (8) code, I found that transportation equipment manufacturing—which includes motor vehicle and parts manufacturing—experienced a sizable drop in the number of establishments (41.5%); but this decline wasn’t the largest one. The manufacturing subsector that experienced the largest decline in establishments in percentage terms was printing and related support activities (–75.3%), followed by machinery manufacturing (–69.9%) (9). When just looking at the raw numbers of business losses among the manufacturing subsectors, I found that fabricated metal product manufacturing experienced the greatest losses: this subsector lost 86 establishments from 1998 through 2013 (almost a 50% contraction). Of the 26 zip codes I analyzed, 17 of them saw greater-than-50-percent declines in the number of manufacturing establishments.

Conclusion

During the 1998–2013 period, the city of Detroit lost business establishments every year. Detroit lost a higher percentage of establishments than its surrounding areas, the state of Michigan, and the United States. The most significant sectorial losses of businesses were from the goods-based side of the economy—most notably, from manufacturing. While the most severe manufacturing losses weren’t from direct transportation equipment manufacturing, they were in complementary industries, such as fabricated metal manufacturing, machinery manufacturing, and printing activities. Geographically speaking, establishments close to Detroit’s border with the Grosse Pointes and those around the former Packard automobile assembly plant shut down in greater proportions than those in other parts of the city.

Because the most recent data available are 2013 data, I am unable to provide any definitive insight into any possible changes in the trend of establishments leaving Detroit since the city exited bankruptcy in late 2014. By many anecdotal accounts, numerous new establishments have settled in the Downtown, Midtown, Corktown, and other select neighborhoods where the most significant public and private investment has occurred of late. As we receive more and newer data, it will be interesting to see whether new business establishments are sprouting up elsewhere in Detroit. Will business (and public) investment in Detroit remain concentrated in its high-activity areas or begin to noticeably branch out to the city’s relatively less active neighborhoods?

(1) See http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/08/17/us/detroit-decline.html
(2) See http://censusviewer.com/city/MI/Detroit
(3) See http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/05/21/census-estimates-michigan/27661485/
(4) See https://ask.census.gov/faq.php?id=5000&faqId=487 for what is considered a business establishment versus a business firm. In this blog entry, businesses refer to business establishments.
(5)Please note, however, that the 48203 zip code area also includes the city of Highland Park and the 48212 zip code area also includes the city of Hamtramck. The 48239 zip code area lies predominantly outside the city of Detroit, so it wasn’t included in the analysis.
(6) See http://archive.freep.com/interactive/article/20121202/NEWS01/120823062/The-Packard-Plant-Then-now-interactive-comparison-photos.
(7) See http://www.annarborusa.org/live-here/facts-rankings
(8) NAICS stands for North American Industry Classification System. For more details, see http://www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/ and http://www.bls.gov/bls/naics.htm.
(9) I only considered manufacturing subsectors with more than 50 establishments in 1998.

Detroit area business economists present auto outlook

By Paul Traub

The U.S. auto industry has just completed its best sales year ever, reaching 17.837 million in total vehicle sales in 2015. Falling gasoline prices together with affordable finance rates helped the Detroit Three (D3) manufacturers (Fiat Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors) by making crossover vehicles, SUVs, and pickup trucks more affordable to own and operate. Chart 1 below shows how the demand for more light trucks has helped the D3 stop the erosion of their market share.

D3 Market ShareSource: Author’s calculations based on data from Wards Automotive.

During the year, the D3 manufacturers also negotiated a new contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, aimed at rewarding workers for remaining loyal during the hard years of the recession while at the same time allowing the companies to remain competitive with their global counterparts. To help us understand where the U.S. auto industry is headed, DABE (the Detroit Association of Business Economists) members gathered at the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on Thursday, January 14, 2016, to present their annual auto outlook. The 2016 Bob Fish Memorial Automotive Industry Luncheon meeting addressed the following questions: How long will sales continue at their current pace? Will fuel prices remain low for an extended period? What happens to vehicle affordability now that the Fed has started to raise interest rates? And, how will the new UAW contract affect the competitive position of the D3? The speakers included the chief economist for General Motors, Mustafa Mohatarem and the director of the Industry and Labor Group at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), Kristin Dziczek.

The program began with Mohatarem’s presentation, entitled “Peak or Plateau – U.S. Auto Industry Beyond 2015.” In summary, Mohaterem said that:

1. Vehicle sales and the economy in 2016 will be more or less a repeat of 2015.
2. The North American economies will grow at a slow and steady pace, with auto sales hitting a new record high.
3. The modest recovery in Western Europe will continue, along with modest growth in new vehicle sales.
4. Slowing economic growth in China will be a source of global economic uncertainty as China makes the difficult transition from
export/investment-led growth to growth in services and domestic demand.
5. The end of the commodity boom will impart significant downward pressure on many emerging and commodity-dependent economies.

Click here to see Mohatarem’s entire presentation.

The discussion continued with a presentation from Dziczek entitled “Process and Outcome of the 2015 UAW Auto Negotiations,” in which she summarized the 2015 contract negotiations, focusing on the union’s gains and losses.

The gains include:
1. Pay increases and profit sharing/lump sums (largely cash).
2. The start of phasing out tier 2 wages, while adding to the number of wage scales.
3. Maintenance of health care benefits without additional cost to the workers with the same health care for everyone at General Motors and Ford.

The losses include:
1. No reinstatements of a cost of living allowance (COLA) or JOBS bank/GEN pool.
2. No overtime after 8 hours a day, only after 40 hours a week.
3. The union did not win back a three-year grow-in to top wages or any pension increases.

In summary, most of the cost of the contract to the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) was in the form of one-time cash payments rather than ongoing cost increases. Part of the problem faced by the UAW stemmed from the fact that younger workers wanted to see more job security and hiring as part of the contract because that would push them up the pay scale to tier 1 wages. At the same time, older workers who were already making tier 1 wages wanted to see larger pay increases and were willing to sacrifice jobs to get them. In the end, the increases in cost from this contract were kept to a minimum, compared with pre-2009 contracts.

Click here to see Dzicek’s entire presentation.

Michigan Exports Lagging

By Martin Lavelle

The Michigan economy has surged since the end of the Great Recession (in 2009). Until recently, rising exports had been part of this story. However, Michigan’s exports abroad have fallen off significantly of late even as its economy continues to grow.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Michigan and Relative Michigan Economic Indexes, Michigan’s economy grew at a rate faster than its long-run trend and at a higher rate relative to that of the U.S. since 2010./1 Moreover, during the past five years, Michigan has added 334,700 nonfarm payroll jobs and its unemployment rate has fallen from 13.8% to 5.6% as of March, 2015./2

Much of this improvement can be attributed to rising Michigan exports since the end of the recession. Using data provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s TradeStats Express,/3 then deflating it with the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysi,/4 I generated the two charts below. They both show that Michigan’s real exports of goods fell sharply in 2009 because of the Great Recession before rebounding strongly in 2010. Like Michigan’s exports, U.S. real exports of goods rebounded sharply in 2010 and grew each year afterward, albeit at slower rates relative to those of the state. But this pattern persisted only through 2013: Michigan’s real exports of goods fell 6.2% in 2014, while U.S. real exports of goods grew 1.4% that year.

Chart 1: Michigan Real Exports of Goods, 1999–2014
Chart 1
Source: Author’s calculations using data from tse.export.gov.

Chart 2: Real Exports of Goods, U.S. & Michigan, 1999=100
chart 2 20150519
Source: Author’s calculations using data from tse.export.gov.

While pullbacks in Michigan’s real exports occurred in multiple sectors in 2014, the largest one was seen for transportation equipment. The chart below shows the change in real exports in 2014 relative to 2013 for the top five categories of goods by share of Michigan real exports. From that chart, one can calculate that transportation equipment accounted for just under half of Michigan’s real exports in both years. Michigan’s transportation equipment exports decreased $3.2 billion from 2013 to 2014; this drop made up the bulk of Michigan’s $3.4 billion decline in total real exports. Meanwhile, automotive exports from the rest of the U.S. did not experience such a decline over the same period.

Chart 3: Michigan Real Exports of Goods, Selected Sectors, 2014 vs. 2013
chart 3 20150519
Source: Author’s calculations using data from tse.export.gov.

Outlook for 2015

Michigan’s exports may rebound in 2015 given the somewhat more buoyant outlook for the global economy. According to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest global forecast, the world economy is expected to grow 3.5% this year, with more growth expected among advanced economies. Of Michigan’s five largest trading partners, all expect to see positive economic growth in 2015, with three anticipating accelerations in economic activity. However, the strengthening U.S. dollar may slow export growth, especially since the U.S. dollar has significantly appreciated against the Japanese yen and the euro. But if Michigan’s transportation exports continue to decrease, another question would have to be considered: What is the story behind transportation equipment exports from Michigan relative to those from the rest of the U.S.?

/1 See https://www.chicagofed.org/~/media/others/research/data/mei/mei-data-series-xlsx.xlsx. [NOTE: The essential URL does not need “?la=en.”] A zero value for the index indicates that the Michigan economy is expanding at its historical trend rate of growth; negative values indicate below-average growth; and positive values indicate above-average growth. A zero value for the Relative MEI indicates that the Michigan economy is growing at a rate historically consistent with the growth of the national economy; positive values indicate above-average relative growth; and negative values indicate below-average relative growth.

/2 Author’s calculations using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov).

/3 Trade data are provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division. All state export statistics are drawn from the Origin of Movement (OM) series compiled by the Foreign Trade Division of the U.S. Census Bureau. The series credits export merchandise to the state where the goods began their final journey to the port (or other point) of exit from the United States, as specified on official U.S. export declarations filed by shippers. The OM can be either the location of the factory where the export item was produced or, in many cases, the location of a distributor, warehouse, or cargo processing facility. For further details, see http://tse.export.gov/TSE/HELP_TSE/helpTSE.htm and http://tse.export.gov/TSE/TSEhome.aspx.

/4 See www.stlouisfed.org/publications/re/articles/?id=2390

Detroit Association of Business Economists 2015 Annual Automotive Outlook

by Paul Traub

On January 22, 2015, the Detroit Association of Business Economists (DABE) held its annual Automotive Outlook Symposium at the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The event was attended by approximately 50 guests, including DABE members together with other local business leaders, academics, and media representatives. I was among the speakers, as was Peter Sweatman, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

Sweatman was appointed UMTRI director in September 2004. UMTRI was created in 1965 with the main goal of improving vehicle safety and sustainable transportation in the U.S. and around the world. It currently has a staff of 102 full-time researchers, faculty, graduate students, and administrative staff affiliated with the University of Michigan, who have conducted over 1,000 research projects over the years. In its latest endeavor, UMTRI has created a public/private research and development partnership called the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center (MTC). The goal of the MTC is to be in the forefront of research and development of vehicle connectivity. This includes vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) technology. As Sweatman pointed out, it’s not just about transportation but about safe and sustainable personal mobility that transcends just getting from one place to another. The vehicles of the future will free the occupants from many of the hands-on tasks and decision processes that are part of operating a vehicle today. By doing this, it is believed that the driving experience can be transformed into a much safer and more productive and enjoyable experience for the vehicle occupants. The major goal of the initiative is to make vehicles of the future much safer by adding technology that will aid in accidence avoidance. Vehicles will not only be able to communicate with one another, they will also be linked with their surrounding environment. For example, Sweatman explained that the connected vehicle (CV) technology could warn drivers before they reach areas of dangerous weather, poor visibility, or other hazardous road conditions. The vehicle could be programed to respond to these conditions on its own either by adjusting its speed or offering alternative routes or a truly autonomous vehicle could choose to take an alternative route on its own. If the driver were to decide to continue to travel on the perilous road, the CV would inform the driver of any accidents in path ahead immediately giving the driver or the vehicle time to adjust accordingly.

CV technology is in its infancy today, and there is still a lot of research and development to do before it can be implemented. To aid in this work, MTC has adopted a plan in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). The plan has three pillars:

1. Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment (2014+)
2. Southeast Michigan Connected Vehicle Deployment (2015+)
3. Ann Arbor Automated Vehicle Field Operational Test (2016+).

Pillar 1 of the connected vehicles (CV) pilot deployment program commenced on August 21, 2012, and included a pilot deployment of 2,836 vehicles— cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles—equipped with wireless communication devices in the Ann Arbor area. This phase ran for six months and was extended for an additional three years by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Pillar 2 will test the rationality of connected vehicles by implementing a jump from research to regional deployment. It will include 20,000 vehicles together with 500 infrastructure nodes located based on safety and congestion needs and the installation of 5,000 vehicle and pedestrian safety devices. The U.S. has invested approximately $1.0 billion dollars over a ten-year span for this research.

Pillar 3 will include an automated Ann Arbor, where a select group of industry and government partners will work together. This phase will include testing in a simulated city (M City) a $6.5 million 32-acre site located in Ann Arbor near the University of Michigan campus and is scheduled to open in July 2015.

The investment that has taken place so far is likely just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what will be needed to complete a national intelligent transportation system. Sweatman argued that if the needed investment is made to complete a national system, it will not only provide an opportunity for the U.S. to lead the world in developing a CV technical knowledge base, it will also lead to the creation of numerous high-tech jobs in Michigan and throughout the country. For more information on this topic, follow some of the links provided in this article or on the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute website.

Following Dr. Sweatman’s presentation I gave a short summary of the 2014 light vehicle industry. Here are some of the highlights. There were 16.434 million light vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2014 making it the best year the industry had seen since 2006, when 16.504 million light vehicles were sold. Although job growth has been good in the auto industry, the pace of growth has slowed in conjunction with the slowing pace of growth in sales. As a result, the automotive and parts sector added 41,600 jobs in 2014, down slightly from the peak job growth year of 2012 when the industry added 59,600 jobs. Average hourly earnings of automotive manufacturing workers, which were flat for most of the period following the 2008 recession, grew only slightly in 2014, up just 0.5% when adjusting for inflation. According to data from J.D. Power and Associates, vehicle incentives as a percentage of total vehicle prices rose to 9.1% in 2014, while the average transaction price for a new vehicle grew to an estimated 56.7% of median household income. One of the more controversial developments of 2014 was the number of vehicles recalled. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicle manufacturers recalled almost 64.0 million vehicles in 2014, the most ever reported. And, of course, the biggest story was the reduction in gasoline prices through the year, with the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline falling more than $1.10 from December 2013 to December 2014. This resulted in about $600 per year in fuel cost savings for the average driver. Looking ahead, there will be 16.9 million and 17.0 million light vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016, respectively, according to the Blue Chip Indicators consensus forecast. If you’d like to see more information or to view the entire presentation you may click the DABE Auto Update – January 22, 2015 here.

Michigan’s Automotive R&D Part II

By Thomas Klier, Bill Testa, and Thom Walstrum

The automotive industry is synonymous with Michigan. This relationship was born of an explosion of technological innovation in Southeast Michigan, including the assembly line and key developments in the internal combustion engine and transmission system. Looking at innovative activity today, a hundred years later, it is not far-fetched to state that the geography of automotive innovation in North America resembles that of yesteryear, with Michigan retaining its dominant role. The state has been highly successful to date in sustaining its leading automotive R&D concentration. Yet, for good reason, policy initiatives in the state are aimed at retaining and building on its strength.

The research and development (R&D) activity of private industry is increasingly being recognized as an important part of the innovation that spurs economic growth and competitiveness. Companies undertake R&D both to improve their production processes for cost and quality and to create wholly new products and services.

Among mainstay U.S. industries, automotive remains one of the most innovative in this regard. R&D that was both financed and performed by U.S. domiciled automotive companies amounted to $11.7 billion in 2011, representing 5.2 percent of total R&D spending. The R&D intensity of automotive manufacturing (as a share of the industry’s value added) is 15.3 percent, compared with 9.2 for all manufacturing, and 1.7 percent for all private industry.1/

The importance of innovation to automotive companies remains paramount. A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group cited nine automotive companies among the world’s most innovative companies in 2013. The report names several factors behind the innovative burst among automotive companies, including the quickly tightening fuel-efficiency and environmental standards, which have spurred interest in electric and hybrid vehicle technologies. At the same time, auto companies continue to strive to meet ongoing demands for safety, comfort, and performance. Today’s vehicles increasingly comprise advanced electronic and IT components, which are developed both by automotive companies and purchased from technology companies in other industry sectors. By one estimate, “Electronics make up nearly 40% of the content of today’s average new automobile, and their share will continue to grow.” R&D initiatives to enhance the performance and to lower the cost of batteries that may power many of tomorrow’s autos are one example of an important and emerging R&D direction; automatic guidance systems for tomorrow’s (driver-less) cars is another.

Today, Michigan remains the epicenter of automotive R&D in the U.S. The state has maintained its leading place even while production has dispersed throughout the nation. According to data from the National Science Foundation that has been assembled for recent years only, R&D that is both funded and performed by auto companies in Michigan held fast at between 70 and 80 percent of the nation’s total from 1998 to 2011, amounting to $8.87 billion in 2011.

Automotive R&D has propelled Michigan to a leadership position among Midwest states. The table shows Michigan leading the region with $13.7 billion in total business-performed R&D by all industries in 2011, closely followed by Illinois ($12.0 billion), but far ahead of Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota.2/
Table 1

Michigan is also a leader in employment of auto engineers to support long-term R&D and innovation. Drawing on data from the Census and the more recent American Community Survey, we can see how large Michigan’s share of the nation’s automotive engineers is relative to its share of the nation’s work force. Michigan employs over one-half of the nation’s automotive engineers, but its work force overall represents just 3 percent of the nation’s.

Granted, Michigan’s share of the nation’s automotive engineers has fallen by ten percentage points since 1980; nonetheless, the state has added 18,000 (two thirds) of its engineers since 1980.
Chart 1

The remarkable importance of automotive technology in Michigan (as represented by engineering workers) can also be understood by comparing it with Michigan’s eroding share of automotive production. By overlaying Michigan’s automotive production workers as a share of the nation on the chart above, the strong role of automotive technology becomes clearer. Since 1950, Michigan’s share of production workers has fallen from 54 to 19 percent, a loss of approximately 255,000 jobs.
Chart 2

And while there are many technologically advanced industries in Michigan—including bio-pharma, medical equipment, industrial chemicals, and office furniture—automotive engineering has come to dominate further in recent decades. As the chart shows, automotive engineers once comprised 30 percent of engineers in all industries in Michigan. By 2012, their share had risen to 51 percent.
Chart 3

What is the future of automotive R&D in Michigan; will the region’s extreme concentration in the activity continue? There are no hard and fast answers, yet there are identifiable features that will come into play. On the one hand, there are many historical instances of geographically concentrated centers being very cohesive and long-lived. Once established, such “clusters” tend to grow and feed on themselves. Technology activity is drawn to technology activity. Skilled workers are drawn to activity-rich cities, and companies are, in turn, drawn toward pools of skilled workers. For example, global financial centers such as New York and London have held their dominant positions for many decades, even centuries. The San Francisco Bay area has enjoyed a long run of dominance in the areas of IT and biotech. In a similar way, Michigan’s established leadership in automotive R&D may persist.

On the other hand, company reorganizations and the geographical shifting of activities that tend to be interdependent with technological activities represent risks to Michigan’s position. It may be beneficial for some industries to locate technology and production in close proximity to facilitate (and reduce the cost of) communication and transportation between the two activities. Thus, the fact that Michigan has lost automotive production in recent decades may have negative implications for automotive R&D in the state.

Similarly, co-dependence between R&D and company headquarters activities such as marketing and strategic planning has also been seen as important in some industry sectors. Thus, any major shift in corporate headquarters activity away from Michigan would raise the concern that it might be accompanied by a shift in R&D activity.

Finally, mature industries such as automotive are often severely disrupted by the emergence of wholly new and sometimes unexpected technologies that greatly shake up their organization and geography. For example, the development of aerospace technologies for military uses shifted the locus of related U.S. production from the Northeast to the Southwest and West during the course of the twentieth century. So far, this has not yet taken place as Michigan continues as the U.S. leader in automotive innovation and R&D activity.

End Notes:
1/ For 2011, National Sicence Foundation, National Center for Engineering and Scientific Statistics, Business R&D and Innovation Survey, and U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis
2/ Latest Data available, National Science Foundation, www.nsf.gov/statistics/inbreid/nsf1333f/

November Light Vehicle Sales Reach Seven Year High

U.S. light vehicle sales for November jumped to 16.3 million units on a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) basis. This makes November the largest sales month on a SAAR basis since February, 2007. Some analysts attribute November’s strong performance to a month-end surge in sales and to the fact that Black Friday landed on the final weekend of the month. Among the automakers, GM remained in the lead with an 18.0% market share year-to-date. The remaining leaders were Ford (15.7%), Toyota (14.4%), Chrysler (11.5%) and Honda (9.8%). Chrysler Y/Y sales increase of 15.8% was the largest of top five manufactures. Fuel prices fell again in November; down 6.1% for regular fuel all grades on a year over year basis, helping to keep pickup truck and SUV sales strong. Lower fuel prices also helped push the YTD combined Detroit Three market share up to 45.2%, its highest level since calendar year 2007. In addition, the YTD share of domestically produced light vehicles (those produced in North America) increased to 78.0%, its highest level since calendar year 2005.

Michigan Automotive, More Than Production

By Thomas Walstrum and Bill Testa

The dispersion of auto assembly line-type jobs from Michigan to the rest of the U.S. has been widely discussed. But it may be important to examine whether other jobs in the automotive value chain have also dispersed, particularly R&D and headquarters-administrative jobs. It is possible that a sizable part of automotive R&D and administration are spatially separable from production, with important implications for the economic health and growth prospects of Michigan.

To shed some light on this, we use microdata from the IPUMS CPS to track trends in production, office, and R&D jobs in both Michigan and the rest of the U.S. We sort any individual who reports working in the auto industry into one of these three occupational categories.1 For example, we classify engineers and technicians as R&D and assembly line workers as production workers. (We further classify as “other” those occupations that could fall into multiple categories, such as security or janitor).

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows that total employment in the automotive industry has been relatively steady in Michigan, averaging 413,000 from 1970 to 2005. Since then, there has been a distinct decline; by 2012, Michigan’s auto employment was 262,000. In contrast, auto employment steadily increased in the rest of the U.S., rising from 588,000 in 1970 to a peak of 974,000 in 2007. The rest of the U.S. also saw heavy losses in the second half of the 2000s, with auto employment at 710,000 in 2012.

Figure 2

Trends in the R&D segment of the auto assembly are quite different. As figure 2 shows, R&D employment in Michigan grew steadily until the 2000s, from 28,000 in 1970 to a peak of 90,000 in 2001. Growth in R&D jobs in the rest of the U.S. generally kept pace, though with the exception of a couple years in the early 2000s, the majority of R&D jobs have resided in Michigan.

And so we see that R&D employment has made up an increasing share of overall auto employment in Michigan. In 1970, 6 percent of Michigan’s auto employment was found in R&D. By 2012, this share had climbed to 22 percent. This contrasts sharply with the rest of the U.S., where the proportion of auto employment in R&D grew from 1 percent in 1970 to 6 percent in 2012. Looking more broadly, 46 percent of Michigan’s employment is in either R&D or office occupations, compared with 24 percent in the rest of the U.S. At least by this measure, Michigan remains the nerve center and the creative engine of the U.S. auto industry, even as production jobs have dispersed.

Figure 3

This glimpse of the changed employment composition of Michigan’s auto assembly sector raises further questions. In particular, what is the outlook for Michigan’s R&D activities in light of the shifting geography of auto production activities? And what, if any, public policies might be influential to R&D’s continued success in the state?

Footnotes:
1 cps.ipums.org. IPUMS CPS provides an occupation variable that is unified across changing occupational coding schemes from 1968 to present. The CPS survey combined Michigan and Wisconsin from 1968 to 1976. To allow the time series to extend back to 1968, we calculated by employment category the proportion of worker-years Wisconsin contributed to combined MI-WI totals from 1977 to present. We then used that proportion to scale down the pre-1977 MI-WI employment numbers to represent only Michigan and to scale up the ROUS numbers so to include Wisconsin.

U.S. Auto Industry Continues to Improve in Line with the Automotive Outlook Symposium Consensus Forecast

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago held its 20th annual Automotive Outlook Symposium (AOS) on May 30–31, 2013, at its Detroit Branch. Just a few days following the conference, light vehicle sales (i.e., car and light truck sales) for May were reported to be 15.2 million units at a seasonally adjusted annual rate. This selling rate was 9.6% higher than May 2012’s selling rate and was consistent with the AOS consensus forecast for 2013. As in past years, certain AOS participants were asked to submit their forecasts of gross domestic product (GDP) and related items, including, of course, light vehicles sales, ahead of the gathering. William Strauss, senior economist and economic advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, hosted the event and presented the consensus outlook. Table 1 shows the median forecast for some of the items.

AOS Table 1

Auto industry experts discussed a number of topics during this year’s two-day conference, and a few of them made formal presentations. Speakers provided a light vehicle sales outlook, a medium- and heavy-duty truck industry outlook, and automotive industry outlooks from the perspectives of the automotive parts suppliers and dealers. In addition to the economic and automotive outlooks, two speakers presented their research on financing the infrastructure necessary to support alternative fuel vehicles (i.e., vehicles running on compressed natural gas, ethanol, electricity, and hydrogen). To see a complete list of this year’s AOS speakers, as well as most of their presentations, go to http://www.chicagofed.org/webpages/events/2013/automotive_outlook_symposium.cfm#.

Of special note was a discussion on Mexico’s emergence as a global player in automotive production, which was held on the first day of the event. David Andrea, senior vice president, industry analysis and economics, for the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA), presided over a panel of experts on Mexico’s growing role in North American automotive production and global automotive trade.
Chart 1 shows how automotive manufacturing capacity has grown consistently in Mexico since 2005, with the exception of a slight setback due to the 2008–09 recession. In contrast, over the period 2005–13, automotive manufacturing capacity for the United States and Canada combined fell by 21.6%. Given these two contrasting trends, it is not surprising that Mexico’s share of all light vehicles produced in North America was 19% in 2012—which was higher than Canada’s share (16%). By comparison, in 1990, only 6% of all light vehicles produced in North America were assembled in Mexico (versus Canada’s 16% share of production back then). So, clearly, automotive production in Mexico has taken great strides over the past two decades. In fact, Mexico has moved ahead of Canada in terms of the number of vehicles produced on an annual basis.

AOS Chart 1

According to projections by WardsAuto, in the years ahead Mexico will be getting most of the additional North American automotive production capacity that is planned (see Chart 2). In total, automotive manufacturing capacity for North America is projected to rise about 4.4% between 2013 and 2018, while automotive manufacturing capacity for Mexico is expected to increase by over 26.0%.

AOS Chart 2

The panel of experts that Andrea presided over at the AOS shared their analyses about Mexico’s growing importance to the North American automotive industry, which were in line with the WardsAuto data. For instance, Bill Cook, director of worldwide transportation and customs for Chrysler Group LLC, said that Mexico’s percentage of Chrysler’s total vehicle production increased over 280% from the start of negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1985 through 2012. (Of course, Mexico’s share of Chrysler’s overall vehicle production experienced its biggest gains after NAFTA was implemented in 1994.) Other topics discussed by the panel included such issues as Mexico’s role in the automotive supply chain and product and parts logistics. Thomas Klier, senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, was also among this panel of experts; he shared many insights on Mexico’s growing role in the North American auto industry, which are reflected in a recent Midwest Economy blog entry and Chicago Fed Letter.

What is the U.S. Auto Industry Outlook for 2013?

On Thursday, January 24, 2013, the Detroit Association for Business Economics (DABE) held its annual Bob Fish Memorial Automotive Outlook luncheon. The speakers for this event were Joseph Barker, from the Industry Analysis Group of General Motors (GM), and Mike Jackson, senior manager of North American production forecasting at IHS Automotive. Barker discussed the U.S. automotive sales outlook for 2013 and beyond, while Jackson concentrated on the North American production forecast. Both of these analysts are strong industry experts, excellent presenters, and former colleagues of Bob Fish—a former president of the DABE and one of the group’s founders.

Light vehicle sales for 2012 started better than expected because of pent-up demand for commercial fleet vehicles and the pushing of product by Japanese original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to meet their fiscal year targets, said Barker. Vehicle sales slowed slightly in the third quarter once the pent-up demand for commercial fleet vehicles was met. Additionally, it was estimated that the effects of Hurricane Sandy lowered sales in October by as many as 300,000 units. However, seasonally adjusted annual rates of auto sales were 15.5 million and 15.3 million units for November and December, respectively; thus, the auto sales rate in the fourth quarter of 2012 reached its strongest level since 2007 and helped pushed calendar year light vehicle sales for 2012 to 14.4 million units.

Barker said that the mix of light vehicle sales in 2012 shifted more to compact and mid-size cars when compared with the mix in 2011, thanks partially to the sales of outgoing models at discounted rates and sales of replacement models that were particularly attractive to buyers. Loyalty to luxury vehicles showed signs of decreasing, with fewer luxury car owners returning to the luxury market. Also, smaller percentages of non-luxury vehicle owners are trading up to the luxury market. Toyota and Honda saw improvements in their respective market shares, which had been hurt from the disruption in parts and supplies caused by the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami; however, their market shares still haven’t recovered to pre-disaster levels.

On the pricing front, the major manufacturers saw a reversal from downward price pressures caused by overcapacity in the industry, said Barker. Average transaction prices were similar or slightly higher for the largest seven OEMs (Chrysler, Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai). In addition, average incentives as a percentage of average transaction prices for the largest seven OEMs have converged since the end of the recession indicating a less discernible difference in product quality between the manufacturers. However, the incentives for the Detroit Three OEMs (Chrysler, Ford, and GM) are still slightly above the industrial average. Even with this firming of prices, falling interest rates on loans and better leasing conditions have pushed Comerica Bank’s Auto Affordability Index to one of its lowest levels on record. Comerica’s index calculates the number of weeks of median family income needed to buy a new car; the index reported this value to be just 23.1 weeks for the fourth quarter of 2012 (compared 24.2 weeks for the fourth quarter of 2011).

Improved affordability, along with the fact that the average age of the current fleet of vehicles in operation is at a record high, has helped increase the percentage of consumers intending to buy a new vehicle within the next six months, according to Barker. Although Barker said he expects there will be a deceleration of sales growth, annual sales for 2013 should rise to between 15.0 million and 15.5 million units. This outlook remains slightly bearish because of the following factors: the upcoming fiscal policy debates, the anticipated decline in the rate of real gross domestic product (GDP) growth that is slightly below the long-term historical rate, and continued slow growth in new home construction. But auto sales are expected to keep increasing until reaching 16.6 million units in 2016.

According to Jackson, the post-recession restructuring of the industry will help narrow the gap between North American sales and production going forward meaning that more of the vehicles sold North America will also be built in North America. Long-term output levels will exceed pre-restructuring levels because of increased exports, OEM expansion, and more localization of production. One of the major concerns about the growth in production plans is whether the supply chain can handle higher production levels with 20% of existing plants already running three shifts and with significant amounts of production capacity having been eliminated (by shuttering plants) over the past few years.

Going forward, “Asian Four” OEM (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai) production will be at least equal to GM and Ford production combined, whereas in previous years, GM production alone was double that of Asian Four OEM production, said Jackson. Jackson also noted that the Asian Four manufacturers will increase their North American production of light vehicles for sale here and abroad because North America is viewed as a safer market with lower currency risk. North America will lead in the production of high-margin crossover utility vehicles. And there will be many new products launched in the coming years. Currently, there are 45 new product launches planned for 2014 and many more in the pipeline. Jackson expressed measured optimism about the supply chain being up to the task ahead.

According to Jackson, the North American light vehicle production forecast for 2013 is 15.9 million units—which is just 3.2% higher than the level of 2012 but 84.9% higher than the recessionary low reached in 2009 of just 8.6 million units. Production of light vehicles in North America is expected to continue to rise, reaching 17.0 million units by 2015, noted Jackson.

For more detailed information and a copy of both presentations, please use the links below:
Joseph Barker’s Presentation: U.S. Light Vehicle Sales Outlook 2013
Mike Jackson’s Presentation: N.A. Light Vehicle Production Outlook 2013