HR in the Auto Industry

Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Table of Contents

The auto industry is a unique environment. It has an entire world inside itself with its own language, customs and routines. From the outside looking in, this can seem overwhelming, but let’s look at it together and see if we can make sense of this world. Let’s pick apart a few things that may help this specific industry seem less daunting: why great HR is so important, different responsibilities of an HR professional in the auto industry versus other industries and unique challenges to HR in the auto industry. Here we go!

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Why Great HR Is So Important in the Auto Industry

In the auto industry, like most industries or organizations, great HR is critical. However, specifically in this industry, HR can “make or break” a business because of the unique challenges specific to the auto industry. Let’s dive into a few reasons why we need great HR:

  • Eliminating uncertainty. The auto industry is riddled with uncertainty: when your next car shipment will be in, if they will have the parts to make them, if your host company (GM, Ford, Chevrolet, etc.) will have recalls and service issues, to name a few. Great HR can help keep the lines of communication flowing through the organization and out to the customers to help eliminate that uncertainty.
  • Reinforcing positive company culture. Auto industry culture can be quite challenging to keep up with because of the uncontrollable uncertainty it brings. Having great HR in place will prioritize maintaining a positive company culture for all employees while still juggling the ever changing auto industry environment.
  • Performance management. As in any HR role, performance management is critical to an organization. Specific to the auto industry, it’s often difficult to keep up with performance management for the large scale and spectrum of employees. Having the right HR in place is just what the company needs to maintain quality performance from the service department all the way to the showroom floor.

Responsibilities of HR in the Auto Industry

The responsibilities of HR in the auto industry are similar to that of any other industry, but with a twist. The list of responsibilities for an HR role, as we know, is endless, but let’s zero in on a few specifics. The list below may look no different than in any other industry. But if we look deeper, we’ll see where the differences lie for the auto industry.

Employee Branding

In the auto industry, your brand is your product. This industry has the specific focus of selling something that could break down the minute you drive it off the lot, at no fault of the person selling you the car. Imagine, as an HR professional, branding that. HR in the auto industry has the responsibility to take something most of us depend on daily and ensure we all believe in the product, even when it fails us. We take the moments of “vehicle failure” in the auto industry and continue to market our product honestly and effectively to our customers all while ensuring their safety as they drive themselves or their families around in a product we willingly stood behind. So, while employee branding is something each of us face in our respective HR roles, it takes on a different light in the auto industry.


We all handle recruiting. In most HR positions within most organizations, recruiting will be some facet of our roles. When it comes to the auto industry, recruiting takes on a different meaning. We are hiring for positions that work mostly on commission, but with products that are completely out of our control. Have you ever been on the showroom floor when a recall notice went out? The anger of some customers is bar none. If you aren’t able to fix the issue on their timeline, it can get extremely ugly. Imagine recruiting for that role. It can be a tough sell. Recruiting specifically for the auto industry requires a set of skills to ensure the candidate understands the unique environment they are walking into. While challenging, it can also have some huge payouts!

Employee Engagement and Involvement

Maintaining employee engagement at any organization can be difficult. In the auto industry, it can seem impossible. We are working with all ends of the spectrum, from mechanics to sales individuals who do not exactly speak the same language when it comes to employee engagement. We may be thinking, but money talks! In an industry where a sales individual can earn a $5,000 commission on a Shelby GT in one day and the mechanic earns the same wage he earned yesterday, maintaining cohesive employee engagement and involvement in the auto industry becomes a critical responsibility of HR. It is important that we recognize that within this industry there are worlds of their own, and approaching them differently will be the key to our success.

Communicate with Host Company

A critical responsibility of HR in the auto industry is constant communication with their host company (Ford, Chevrolet, Subaru, Honda, etc.). We aren’t just dealing with the board, the CEO, or the president of our specific organization, we are dealing with them, and then the board, the CEO or the president of our host company. HR is often the face of the organization to the host company and when you are dealing with heavy hitters like Ford Motor Company, this takes on a different level for our profession. Facilitating effective and continual communication with the host company is imperative to ensure our specific dealership or chain of dealerships stays in the “know” about recalls, orders and back orders or new models hitting the floor. In the auto industry, having this information first sets up your organization for profit.

Unique Challenges to HR in the Auto Industry

Now that we know the broad responsibilities of HR in the auto industry, let’s evaluate the unique challenges to HR in the auto industry.

Everyone Is the Face of the Organization

In most companies, we put our best foot forward. Prior to our employees working with customers, they will undergo extensive customer service training and be evaluated to ensure we are putting our best foot forward when it comes to our approach. This approach is not exactly possible with the auto industry. Let’s take our service department for example. These employees are some of the most brilliant people we have ever worked with. They can take apart a car and know exactly what is wrong with it and how to fix it within a few hours. When something goes wrong with a vehicle, do you think the customer wants to talk to the sales individual that sold them the vehicle? Of course they will, at first, but then they will want to go to the source and talk to the service professional that is fixing the car. Therefore, that individual now becomes the face of the organization. The unique challenge to HR is to encourage that each employee be prepared to take on this specific role. Our service professionals may not agree that they need to work on the way they communicate to the customers because they are “behind the scenes.” But when “behind the scenes” comes front and center, that’s exactly when we need to be prepared and ensure our employees are prepared to be the positive face of the organization.

“Sales” Mentality to Overcome

This should come as no surprise to us. We have all heard it said before, mostly in derogatory speak, about being a “used car salesman.” As HR in the auto industry, that’s a unique hurdle we have to continually overcome. It is almost as if we are constantly working at a deficit. In any HR role we strive for integrity and promote open communication to our employees to continually build the reputation that HR can be trusted. HR in the auto industry takes it to another level when we not only have to accomplish the trust with our employees, but also overcome the deficit with our customers that we are an organization with integrity.

Transient Environment

One challenge that hits HR in the auto industry hard is the ever revolving door of employees. We could have one large organization with multiple host companies and have the best sales manager, only to turn around and have that sales manager be needed at our Mazda store, leaving the Mitsubishi store now without a sales manager. HR’s job in this environment is to anticipate this before it happens by being in constant communication with all stores within our umbrella and backfill this position even before it happens.

Similarly, we could have a rockstar sales individual taken from us because the commission over at a rival Ford dealership is better than what we are paying. These situations bring yet another hurdle for HR in the auto industry.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About HR in the Auto Industry

This depends on the organization within the auto industry you are looking at joining. If you are looking at a small dealership, be prepared to be the HR “department of one” (and perhaps the office manager as well) with a lower salary. However, for larger corporations within the auto industry, pay should be the median for the HR profession.
Today, seeking talent in the auto industry would be utilizing the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) and Automotive News for bonus locations to post our jobs in addition to the traditional ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, etc. From there, exploring the technical sales programs at local universities and posting open positions with campus job boards has always been extremely beneficial when hiring for the auto industry.
Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!

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