HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (AP) — General Motors and Chrysler, two companies that nearly died last year before getting government bailouts, showed further signs of recovery Tuesday as each announced plans to hire 1,000 engineers and researchers.
GM's hiring will begin immediately and run through the next two years as it adds staff to work on the next generation of electric vehicles. Chrysler said it will hire during the next four months to help handle global growth as well as expansion of its small and midsize vehicle lineup.
The moves each are a sign of confidence as the automakers come back from stays in bankruptcy protection last year. GM is making money and Chrysler has narrowed its losses, both operating with far less debt and lower labor costs than when they were near to the brink of financial ruin.
The GM hiring was announced by CEO Dan Akerson during a ceremony as the company prepares to deliver the first Chevrolet Volt rechargeable electric cars to customers. Akerson also disclosed that GM is selling the $41,000 Volt at "close to cost," but said its vehicles of the future will benefit from Volt technology.
Akerson, who drove the first production Volt onto a stage at a Detroit-area factory, said electric vehicles are critical to the global auto industry and ending dependence on oil. GM wants to lead in the new technology, and the new Volt, he said, is the "first step in a long journey to develop the technology in this country, in this company."
The new engineers and researchers will work on battery technology, electric motors and power controls for electric cars, gas-electric hybrids and even hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, GM said. The technology jobs are the first major additions to GM's U.S. salaried ranks since the company emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, spokesman Tom Wilkinson said.
General Motors Co. has retained or added around 8,100 manufacturing jobs in that time. It now has 209,000 workers worldwide, including 26,000 white-collar workers in the U.S.
Chrysler Group LLC said its new engineers and technology workers are in addition to nearly 5,000 people it has hired since emerging from bankruptcy protection in June 2009. Chrysler, which is being run by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, now has just over 49,000 workers worldwide, including 13,000 white-collar employees.
It has announced plans for 11 new or revamped cars by the end of this year, and it is integrating Fiat technology into its newest models.
GM has been making Volts at its Detroit-Hamtramck factory for several weeks but has yet to ship them as it does final quality checks, the company said. The Volt will go about 35 miles on electric power, then a small gasoline engine kicks in to generate power for the car. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will get the equivalent of 93 miles per gallon on electric power in combined city-highway driving and 37 mpg when running on just the gas generator.
GM would not answer further questions about Akerson's comments about selling the Volt at close to cost.
In his book "Overhaul," about last year's U.S. government efforts to save GM and Chrysler Group LLC from ruin, former Obama administration auto czar Steven Rattner said early versions of the Volt would cost about $40,000 to manufacture, not including development costs. The car, he wrote, would not have a positive impact on GM's finances anytime soon.
But Akerson and other GM executives said the big benefits from the Volt are learning about electric technology and convincing people on both coasts that GM is a green company. He also equated the Volt's development to the first digital camera, which brought expertise and economy of scale to companies who now sell far more sophisticated cameras for a low cost.
GM has plans to use the Volt powertrain in more of its vehicles, including an Opel version to be called the Ampera in Europe.
"You're going to see the electrification of the car in every size, every model over the next 10, 15, 20 years, or the migration of other Volt technologies" Akerson said after speaking to about 1,500 workers at the Volt factory.
North American President Mark Reuss wouldn't say how many orders it has for the Volt, but the company has disclosed that it plans to build 10,000 of them in the first year of production and up to 45,000 more in 2012.
GM has had 240,000 inquiries about buying the Volt on its websites, Reuss said. The company is preparing to add production should demand be higher than anticipated, he said. The company will export Volts from the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, but it will not limit sales in North America to export the cars, Reuss said.
Although the Volt has a $41,000 base price, the company is offering a $349 per month, 36-month lease deal that could boost sales. The car costs $8,000 more than the base price of its closest competitor, Nissan's Leaf electric hatchback. But Nissan also is offering a similar lease deal. Both cars are eligible for a $7,500 tax credit.
GM, Akerson said, is working on the next generation of Volt batteries and other components now, and Akerson said the cost will likely come down.
GM is trying to keep content and quality of the Volt high while trimming costs, he said. "That will come with volume," he said.
GM shares rose 35 cents to $34.15 in late afternoon trading Tuesday.
AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this report.