General Motors Corp. yesterday said it plans to recall more than 21,000 laid-off workers in the next three months to fill growing dealer orders for new cars and trucks.
American Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. also are bringing workers back, making the current recalls the largest since late 1979, when tumbling sales resulted in mass layoffs in the domestic auto industry. An estimated 281,853 autoworkers still are out of work and many are not expected to be called back ever.
The latest recall announcements, led by General Motors Corp., is a sign that "a real recovery may be under way" in the domestic auto industry, said David Healy, an analyst with New York-based Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.
GM, the nation's largest automaker, yesterday said it will recall 21,400 of its 168,000 workers now on indefinite layoff over the next three months.
None of the planned recalls would be at GM's huge Baltimore plant on Broening Highway, which produces mid-size rear-drive cars, such as the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and the Pontiac Grand Prix and Bonneville. But the Baltimore factory, which has been operating on one shift since January 1980, is doing better -- thanks to the steady increase in sales of large, mid-size, and luxury domestic cars.
"We've been operating on overtime, about 32 extra hours each month, since October," said Jack Summers, personnel director of the Broening Highway plant. An estimated 6,100 people worked at the plant in 1979, compared with 2,900 (up from 2,300 in February 1982) who work there today.
"This is a tremendous sign that people are coming back into the showrooms," Summers said of the GM recall and his plant's overtime work. "I just hope they keep coming so that we can get back to two shifts," Summers said.
Based on the kinds of plants recalling workers, the buyers coming into the showrooms are mostly middle-income and well-to-do.
GM is beefing up production at its mid-size car plants in Arlington, Tex., Framingham, Mass., and Oklahoma City, Okla. The company plans to return an estimated 2,800 workers to its GM Assembly Division in Lordstown, Ohio, where it produces subcompacts and vans. Production also is being increased at GM's truck and bus manufacturing operations in Detroit and St. Louis.
GM is running two overtime shifts at its Cadillac plant in Detroit.
Of the nation's four largest automakers, Ford Motor Co., the second largest, is the only one that has no plans for major recalls in the near future. In fact, Ford announced yesterday that it plans to close subcompact car plants at Edison, N.J., and Wayne, Mich., temporarily idling about 4,400 workers.
But a Ford spokesman yesterday said it has five plants working overtime -- producing large, luxury and mid-size cars -- in Illinois, Missouri and Michigan.
Chrysler plans to recall about 2,000 of its 42,900 laid-off workers by September, particularly to produce its luxury, rear-drive New Yorkers at a plant to be reopened in Fenton, Mo.
American Motors Corp. has recalled about 3,800 workers since May 1982, at its plant in Kenosha, Wis., to produce its successful Alliance passenger line. But the company said yesterday it is temporarily laying off about 1,500 other Kenosha workers who produce slow-selling four-wheel drive vehicles.