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Mixed sales numbers for GM as auto industry prepares to hire

A woman works on a GM truck engine on the assembly line of a General Motors assembly plant.

BOB MOON: We're getting one of our first snapshots of the sales picture for the car industry, amid signs the country's economic engine may be sputtering. And it seems General Motors was running, as I mentioned, in both forward and reverse. Let me explain: The automaker reports a nine percent rise in retail sales from May a year earlier. But total sales -- including fleet purchases by businesses, like car rental companies -- fell by one percent. Still, there's news the auto industry is gearing up to hire more workers.

Let's reconcile those things with Kristin Dziczek, a labor specialist at the Center for Automotive Research. Thanks for being with us.

KRISTIN DZICZEK: You're very welcome.

MOON: So we got some pretty disappointing job numbers but I hear the Big Three automakers are on a hiring blitz. What's going on there?

DZICZEK: It's hard to go anywhere but up from where we were.

MOON: That's true.

DZICZEK: This is a very cyclical industry and we're on an upswing. So there has been hiring, products are selling. We've got a much lower capacity and they're starting to fill it all out.

MOON: Well you said there was nowhere to go up, so what does this say about the health of automakers and the economy?

DZICZEK: I think, you know, the auto makers are certainly much more healthy after having gone through the crisis that they did. A lot of these changes were in the works for somewhat ten years though. I mean we've been closing plans, downsizing the work force, working on adjustments in the UAW agreements, but we really got a financial balance sheet scrubbing in 2009 with the bankruptcies.

MOON: If hiring in the general economy is sputtering, can this be sustained?

DZICZEK: You know, it's very dependent. Auto sales are very dependent on the growth in GDP. So if GDP is above 3 percent growth roughly, we see auto sales on a positive track. But if it's sputtering along, that's really very difficult to sustain. So we really need to see distinct moderate growth in GDP or so before we get positive sales.

MOON: Kristin Dziczek at the Center for Automotive Research. Thanks for joining us.

DZICZEK: You're very welcome.

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