Auto makers slash jobs

PARIS - FRANCE'S flagship car manufacturer PSA Peugeot Citroen slashed 3,550 jobs on Thursday as the global economic crisis cut a swathe through the world's auto sector.

Peugeot's news came as German luxury marque Daimler, Japanese truck maker Isuzu and car giant Mazda and Thailand's General Motors subsidiary announced similar cuts, in a market sapped by collapsing consumer confidence.

World manufacturing has been sucked into the storm whipped up by the global financial crisis, and job losses in the auto sector have contributed to the gloom haunting plunging stock markets.

Falling car sales are particularly bad news for France, where the sector plays a strategic role in the economy and directly or indirectly accounts for 10 percent of the jobs in the workforce.

Renault has already announced 6,000 job losses, including 4,900 in France, and Thursday's announcement saw the crisis cut deep into its larger competitor PSA Peugeot Citroen.

A statement from the firm said it hoped to trim headcount by 3,550 across all of its plants, including 850 at the factory in the western city of Rennes where it produces mid and high-end cars.

Peugeot hopes to make up these numbers through voluntary redundancies. A further 900 employees will be asked to leave Rennes and take up jobs elsewhere in France building smaller, cheaper vehicles.

'These measures are only aimed at employee volunteers,' Peugeot said. 'In this way, the group should be able to reduce its headcount without resorting either to a collective redundancy program with lay-offs or early retirements.'

Explaining the cutbacks, the company said European car sales would fall 17 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008, and predicted: 'This recession will continue in 2009 (minimum forecast at least minus 10 percent).'

The German luxury car maker Daimler, meanwhile, will reduce the number of its temporary workers in Germany again, a spokeswoman told AFP, as the company sought to counter the effects of falling demand.

'We are going to reduce again the number of temporary workers and short-term contracts,' the spokesman said, while declining to say how many workers would be affected. German press reports estimated the figure at 570.

Outside Europe, it was a similar story.

Japan's Isuzu said it would axe 1,400 domestic posts and slash domestic production by 10 percent from an earlier target.

'With the way things are, we had no choice but to make adjustments,' said a spokesman for Japan's second-biggest truckmaker.

Mazda, Japan's fifth largest carmaker, said it would scrap 1,300 jobs. The group has lowered its production target for this financial year to 1.048 million vehicles, 48,000 units fewer than originally planned.

General Motors will halt assembly in Thailand for two months and shed 250 staff due to slow demand, a spokesman said on Thursday, as its struggling parent company pleaded for a bailout in the US.

The announcements on Thursday were only the latest in a series of job losses and plant closures to have swept through the industry since Aug, when fears over a collapse in the US sub-prime lending market triggered a credit crunch.

With their own jobs on the line, and credit deals harder to find, motorists turned their backs on new cars, placing the auto sector in the frontline as the financial crisis began to ravage the 'real economy.'

The US has been particularly hard hit, with lawmakers wrangling over a proposed US$25 billion (S$48 billion) government bail-out packages to save the 'Big Three' auto makers: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. -- AFP


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