19,000 hourly workers leaving GM as automakers regroup

More than a quarter of General Motors' gm hourly workers are expected to leave by the summer as a result of a recent buyout and retirement offer, the company announced Thursday amid reports that Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner will announce additional restructuring measures at its annual meeting next week.

The move comes as automakers are scrambling to cut costs and adjust production plans amid to high gas prices and the weak economy as U.S. buyers shift away from trucks and SUVs to smaller more fuel-efficient vehicles.

GM said 19,000 of its 73,000 hourly workers have signed up for buyouts and retirement offers. Workers will be expected to leave by July.

While the number leaving is far higher than that of a similar program at Ford Motor f earlier this year, it is a bit below the number GM targeted under its special attrition program offers, also called the SAP, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"We had hoped that 20-25,000 would take the SAP at GM — setting up at least 12,000 hires this fall," said Sean McAlinden, chief economist at the center. "I think GM assumed this also. So GM is much closer to its target than Ford."

Ford saw about 4,200 take its offers, but he said, had hoped to entice 10,000 hourly workers to leave.

Both automakers had hoped to use the buyout and retirement offers to move its older workers off their payrolls. Both automakers say they have more workers than they need given the growing competition and their shrinking market shares in the United States.

In other moves:

•Honda will meet growing U.S. demand for small cars while maintaining North American jobs by moving production of two bigger models from Canada to Alabama and increasing production of smaller Civics in Canada, Chief Executive Takeo Fukui said Thursday.

•Hyundai says it may make small cars at a plant being built in the United States by its affiliate Kia Motors.

•Ford confirmed this week that it is looking at involuntary layoffs of salaried employees, perhaps as many as 2,000. Ford said earlier this month that it would cut North American production 15% in the second quarter, 15% to 20% in the third quarter and 2% to 8% in the fourth quarter, primarily affecting pickups and sport-utility vehicles.

McAlinden said GM had hoped to have enough workers take the buyout and retirement offers that it could not only trim its workforce but also take advantage of a clause in the most recent UAW contract that allows the automaker to hire new workers at a lower hourly wage and with a lesser benefits package.

"This attrition program gives us an opportunity to restructure our U.S. workforce through the entry-level wage and benefit structure for new hourly employees," Troy Clarke, president of GM North America, said in a statement. "We appreciate the UAW's support in making business improvements that provide a more secure future for General Motors and its employees.

GM's latest buyout brings to about 53,000 the number of hourly workers the automaker has cut in the past two years as part of a North American turnaround plan that has cut $9 billion in fixed costs, but has yet to return the automaker to positive cash flow or profitability.

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