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Nissan Cuts -- Detroit Hires.

Detroit’s cutting back, Japan’s out hiring. That, it seems, is the conventional wisdom when it comes to the U.S. auto industry. But as is often the case, the conventional wisdom appears to be wrong.

True, there’ve been a wave of cutbacks at Big Three auto plants, spurred by declining sales and revenues, as well as the latest union contract. And, yes, Toyota’s been ramping up production at an assortment of plants, with another assembly line soon to come online. But that’s only part of the story.

Despite strong sales and earnings, Nissan Motor Co. trimmed the body count at its assembly plant in Smyrna, TN by 750 last year. Now comes word, in Wednesday’s Detroit News, that it’s going to cut more than 10 percent of the workforce at its Nissan Design America operations, through voluntary attrition. That might come as a surprise, considering NDA has been taking on an increased role in Nissan’s global product development process, and has been responsible for such products as the Nissan 350Z sports car, and Armada and Infiniti QX56 full-size SUVs.

But, “the process,” NDA Vice President Bruce Campbell told the paper, “from the idea to the showroom is becoming shorter,” and less manpower intensive. Translation: fewer people, more products in a shorter time. Don’t be surprised to see more cuts at Nissan, going forward.

On the other hand, as reported just yesterday, we could see a “hiring blitz” by the Big Three, suggests a new study by the Center for Automotive Research, quoted in the Wednesday Detroit Free Press. Over the next four years, 36,000 hourly and salaried jobs will open up in Michigan alone, says the CAR report.

But not everyone is celebrating. Most of those jobs will open up to replace workers that have accepted buyouts from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. If that sounds like a strange sleight of hand, here’s the rest of the story: the new hires will be working for $14 an hour, or half of what the same jobs were paying previously, thanks to the concessions granted by the United Auto Workers Union, last summer.

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