Brazilian market vehicle sales rose 12% year on year to 1.928m last year, just 2,000 units short of the all-time record set in 1997.

All forecasts had pointed to a strong year but no one had dared to foresee growth of this magnitude. It was the third consecutive year that sales rose by a two-digit percentage, a result seen elsewhere only in China and markets recovering after a deep recession such as Argentina and Venezuela.

Higher sales lead naturally leads to more jobs and recruiting is going on already.

Late in December, Fiat - market leader in cars and light commercials - announced the hiring of 1,200 workers and the start of a third shift this month, in addition to the 500 new jobs created in 2006.

According to company sources, Brazilian production will rise 9% from 550,000 to 600,000 units this year, accounting for a quarter of the Fiat group's global production and making it unique in this respect amongst the automakers established here.

Not long ago, General Motors complained about having to slash export volume (due to the rising value of the Brazilian real) which forced it to axe 600 jobs at its São José dos Campos plant in São Paulo state. But local market demand has since led to the hiring of 900 workers for Gravataí, its newest plant in Southern Brazil, where the Celta hatchback and Prisma sedan are produced. Only 10% of those are exported.

Ford has just announced a new investment of US$1bn for the next five years, focused on new products rather than any short term hiring. The new subcompact to be built on the former Fiesta platform - the replacement for the Ka - scheduled for this second quarter will trim excess capacity by employing a second shift five days a week.

Renault, in the state of Paraná, is also hiring 1,000 workers for the local Logan launch, also due in the second quarter.

Honda will add 600 employees to payroll to boost production from 60,000 to 100,000 units per year at its São Paulo state plant.

Volkswagen, in spite of announcing a $1bn investment over four years, is the only automaker going against the hiring trend. Within two years it will slash until 25% of its workforce in an essential move to boost productivity and compensate for reduced export production.

This decision may be reviewed, though, if the home market keeps on growing at the current rate.

Fernando Calmon