COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- More than 500 temporary workers at BMW's South Carolina plant will likely lose their jobs at the end of the year because the ailing economy in the United States has hurt sales for the German automaker.
The exact number of layoffs hasn't been determined, but the company that provides the workers for the plant said it has told the state up to 733 layoffs are possible, and the final number should be above 500 employees, said Randy Hatcher, president of staffing company MAU.
Most of the workers are on BMW's production line, although some employees in logistics also will be affected, Hatcher said Friday.
BMW uses temporary workers to handle fluctuations in production levels, Hatcher said.
About 5,400 workers at the plant are employed by BMW, while others are hired by contractors.
BMW did not return several messages seeking comment on the layoffs.
The employees that could be let go were sent letters last week saying the layoffs will happen after the plant shuts down for the year on Dec. 19, and the workers will be paid through the Christmas holidays, Hatcher said.
"There's no good way to deliver bad news, but to keep people employed through the Christmas holidays is at least some good news," Hatcher said.
MAU will try to find other jobs for the workers, and Hatcher hopes BMW will hire them back either when the economy improves or the automaker opens a $750 million expansion its currently building at its plant near Spartanburg
BMW has not been immune to the slump in auto sales caused by the downturn in the economy. U.S. sales for the automaker plunged nearly 30 percent in September when compared to the same month last year, and sales for the first nine months of this year are down almost 10 percent compared to the same period in 2007, said Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst with the consulting company Global Insight.
The vehicles made at the South Carolina plant have taken an even bigger hit. Sales for the Z4 coupe are off by a third this year and two-thirds in September, while sales of the X5 sports utility vehicle have been flat, Bragman said.
People are looking to buy less expensive cars, and some interested in buying a BMW may not be able to get loans, Bragman said.
"Consumer confidence has been shaken on a national level and people are starting to look at purchasing lower end items when they can," Bragman said.
About three-quarters of the vehicles being manufactured by BMW are being shipped overseas, a strong indication of problems in the U.S. market.