Bumpy Ride: Automakers Face Challenges Amidst Comeback

The U.S. auto industry has come roaring back from the pandemic-induced shutdowns last spring, with most car factories back to full production and sales rebounding. But there are still some speed bumps as the industry adjusts to the "new normal" of social distanced plants, quarantined workers, and supply chain issues.

The biggest issue facing the industry is one that started long before the coronavirus pandemic, but is now even more apparent---a lack of qualified workers. "There is an underlying problem that has been with us for some time, and that is the pipeline of people with appropriate education to replace the boomers when they retire is not very good," says David Cole, longtime automotive analyst. "We're facing a shortage of about three million people with an appropriate education, and that's really a big deal---not just in auto, but in all manufacturing."

Cole blames the shortage of qualified workers on the de-emphasis of trade skills in recent decades. "We've taken shop classes out of schools," he tells KTRH. "So this is a continuing big deal, particularly as the technology of the vehicle and of the production process gets much more complex."

There are other issues facing car factories in the post-coronavirus world. "There's a lot of work being done to separate people from one another, and of course we don't have the density of people (in factories) that we once had," says Cole. "So we're putting much more value and attention on robotics and other technologies that reduce the physical labor."

The net result of all this for consumers is less inventory of cars, especially used cars, and possibly higher prices. "It's a combination of less production--not making things--as well as greater interest of people in buying things," says Cole.

Photo: Getty Images

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