Americans own fewer vehicles than they did a decade ago and they're putting fewer miles on them, but that's not stopping the hiring spree at Ford Motor Co.
Ford said Tuesday that it plans to hire 3,000 salaried employees this year, 800 more than originally scheduled in January in its biggest white-collar hiring initiative since 2000.
"Engineers and technical professionals are in as much demand as our cars, trucks and SUVs," Felicia Fields, Ford's vice-president of human resources, said in a statement. "Global demand and increasing capacity in North America and Asia requires that we aggressively seek out technical professionals in order to continue our growth."
It's the latest sign of the robustness of the recovery in the U.S. auto industry, which has outpaced the overall recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2009.
The auto maker is also hiring hourly paid workers at several of its North American assembly plants as it adds shifts to crank out more Fusion sedans, Escape crossovers and F-Series pickup trucks.
That's despite a drop in the number of vehicles on U.S. roads and the fact that those vehicles are spending more time in driveways and garages than they did in 2004, according to a study released Tuesday by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.
"We now have fewer light-duty vehicles and we drive each of them less than a decade ago," Michael Sivak, the institute's director of sustainable worldwide transportation, said in the study.
Increased telecommuting, greater use of public transportation, changes in the age composition of drivers and the growth of urbanization are among the reasons for the shift, Prof. Sivak noted.
Miles driven per vehicle peaked in 2004 at 11,946 on average, but fell in 2011 to 11,318.
U.S. vehicle sales are heading back up to more than 15 million on a seasonally adjusted annual basis. That's still below the peak of 17.75 million hit in 2000, but Ford and the other Detroit-based auto makers are now in a better financial position after eliminating billions of dollars of costs during the recession by shedding tens of thousands of jobs.
They are racking up profits on fewer vehicle sales – a far cry from the profitless prosperity of much of the 2000s, when Detroit chalked up tens of billions of dollars in losses despite moving record numbers of vehicles off dealers' lots.
The seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales in July is likely to be in the 15-million to 15.5-million range, Deutsche Bank AG auto analyst Rod Lache said in a note to clients Tuesday.
That's less than the 15.9-million level in June, Mr. Lache said.
He chalks up that decline to extremely low inventory of key Ford vehicles ahead of additional shifts coming on stream in the third quarter.
U.S. sales would be 400,000 units higher "if Ford achieved the same proportion of sales that it has been achieving year-to-date."
Ford said its sales last month represented its strongest June performance since 2006.
The auto maker is scheduled to report its second-quarter financial results Wednesday.
Barclay's Capital Inc. auto analyst Brian Johnson has raised his forecast for share profit by 2 cents (U.S.) to 35 cents for the second quarter, slightly lower than the analyst consensus of 36 cents a share.