Costs in the Japanese auto industry

…it’s not just OEMs…

Monday I was at the award ceremony for the Automotive News PACE Supplier of the Year competition, for which I’ve been a judge for the past 19 years; more on that in a later post. On Friday (19 April) I spoke on the Japanese auto industry at an UMTRI conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One data point was an overview of the industry; since I begin a new (4-week) term tomorrow (22 April), let me elaborate as indirect class preparation.

The auto industry is not just OEMs, but encompasses dealers and parts suppliers. For Japan, the Economic Census provides an overview of employment of various subdivisions. As in the US, the downstream industry is the largest source of employment. (Note I’m puzzled by the large level of employment at wholesalers; I have no answer.)
2006 51 201 8,799
2007 66 210 8,979
2008 67 221 8,921
2009 72 198 7,996
2010 72 170 7,812
2006 176,662 39,661 633,297
2007 182,993 18,842 693,322
2008 182,707 18,503 664,257
2009 166,479 15,513 604,644
2010 161,158 13,402 612,193
Annual per worker cash compensation, ¥ million
2006 7.47 6.65 5.13
2007 7.32 5.05 5.25
2008 7.57 4.89 5.47
2009 6.92 4.73 4.92
2010 7.08 4.59 5.10
500+ workers 7.11 4.77 6.39
Source: Census of Manufactures (工業統計表). Wages are cash compensation divided by employment in establishments
Within manufacturing, the parts sector is the largest by about a factor of three. That’s consistent with the US, where Thomas Klier and James Rubenstein found about a 3:1 ratio (Who Really Made Your Car? Restructuring and Geographic Change in the Auto Industry, Upjohn Institute Press, 2008). Now Census data represent classifications by those reporting, so miss the full count. In addition, I didn’t include categories (e.g., piston rings) that aren’t reported under “autos”; Klier and Rubenstein work with a much more comprehensive set of data. Hence the table at right underreports parts employment.
Finally, I include very rough data on compensation; mandatory benefits add at least another 20%. These data, alongside the employment data, provide a sense of the sharp downturn in 2009-2010, under the impact of the Lehman Shock (as it’s called in Japanese). Reflecting lower bonuses (in larger firms the norm is 4.5 months or more pay) and cuts to overtime, compensation fell sharply in those years. I also give a row for cash compensation restricted to the largest size establishments; such locations would in almost all cases be unionized (though contingent workers – contract and part-time employees – would not normally be members and would receive lower pay and benefits).
Now as I write this the exchange rate is ¥99.8/US$1.00, or ¥1 is equivalent to a penny at market exchange rates. The average parts worker in a larger establishment, which account for 2/3rds of output, is thus about $64,000. Add in mandatory benefits and that rises to $76,000. Even at the April 21st exchange rate, that is far higher than the US; at the ¥80 level of last year, that would have been ¥95,000. While this would include engineers, at least if they were located in a manufacturing facility, it is a tidy sum. And it has obvious implications: even if the average worker is more productive than their US equivalent, Japanese workers have (on average) priced themselves out of the global market.
…Mike Smitka…

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