Strike threatens GM pickup sales

Industry

DETROIT — It’s Truck Month at Chevrolet dealerships, yet General Motors isn’t able to build any trucks.

The last GM pickup plant in North America that was still running during the UAW’s strike had to shut down last week because of parts shortages, raising worries that some dealerships soon will start running low on the automaker’s top-selling vehicles.

The production standstill could hurt dealers’ inventory in just two weeks, one analyst says. And it could put Chevy at an even greater disadvantage against rivals Ford and Ram.

GM was “not caught in a good position for a strike with trucks,” said Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics consulting for J.D. Power. “Truck supply may start to get a little tight soon, if it’s not already getting to that point.”

GM’s lost profits have been piling up since UAW members walked out of its plants Sept. 16. Through Sunday, Oct. 6, GM will have lost $660 million in profit, according to Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing, Mich. Daily losses started at less than $10 million per day, the firm said, but will catapult to $90 million per day if the strike extends to a month.

The Silao, Mexico, plant that GM shut Tuesday, Oct. 1, builds about 1,300 pickups per day, according to LMC Automotive. Production at GM’s other light-duty pickup plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., stopped last month when the strike started. GM’s heavy-duty pickup plant in Flint, Mich., also has been offline for the duration of the strike.

Yet Chevy’s website was still promoting Truck Month discounts of up to $9,510 or no payments for 90 days on the Silverado 1500 and up to $11,466 off the Silverado 2500.

“If we do what we should do in October during Truck Month, I don’t know how they are going to backfill coming up on almost four weeks of no production,” said one Midwest dealer who asked to not be identified.

GM also stopped operations at the transmission plant that supports Silao Assembly, along with a nearby engine plant that produces 6.0-liter V-8s for commercial vehicles built at U.S. factories. The closures in Silao resulted in about 6,000 temporary layoffs, a GM spokesman said.

GM was continuing to build the Chevrolet Blazer and GMC Terrain in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, and the Chevy Equinox and Trax in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

“Strikes hurt everyone,” GM spokesman Jim Cain said. “The sooner it’s resolved, the better.”

GM last week said third-quarter sales jumped 29 percent for the GMC Sierra and 15 percent for the Chevy Silverado, which is trying to avoid finishing a year with less sales than both the Ford F series and Ram’s pickups for the first time ever. The Silverado trailed Ram by almost 52,000 going into the fourth quarter.

“General Motors was on the right arc. This is going to hurt and hurt badly,” said Steve Kalafer, CEO of Flemington Car and Truck Country in Flemington, N.J.

Combined, light-duty Sierras and Silverados made up nearly a quarter of GM’s third-quarter U.S. deliveries.

“It’s a tough time for them to be losing this,” said Paul Waatti, an analyst at AutoPacific. “They’re bleeding market share at the same time.”

In the first nine months of the year, the Silverado held 22.6 percent of the full-size pickup market, down from 24.2 percent a year earlier, according to the Automotive News Data Center, and the Sierra had 9 percent, up from 8.7 percent at the same time in 2018. Ram’s pickup share was 25.5 percent, up from 21.4 percent a year ago, and the Ford F series had 36.6 percent, down from 38.6 percent.

There was no production increase at Silao Assembly in anticipation of the strike, according to LMC Automotive. But GM spokesman Dan Flores told Automotive News that whenever the company faces a significant disruption, such as severe weather or a strike, “we do have teams that look at potential part shortages that would be a result of any issue.”

GM will undoubtedly attempt to compensate for its lost production after the strike ends, but some will be tough to make up, said IHS Markit’s principal auto analyst, Stephanie Brinley.

“The plants that were already running on overtime, the plants already running three shifts, it’s hard to find a space to make up some of that volume,” Brinley said. “This all depends on how long it goes, but it might end up impacting a little bit of sales early next year.”

Before the strike, GM had an 80-day supply of vehicles in stock overall, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Most automakers aim for a supply of around 60 days, so the strike could help GM reduce bloated inventory, Jominy said. “They had roughly three weeks before they got back to average,” he said.

It had about 90 days’ worth of pickups, though, which is in line with the industry average for that segment, he said. Dealerships generally want larger supplies of pickups because they come in so many configurations.

GM dealers already have faced parts shortages in their service departments, and they’ll soon be pressed for pickup inventory, said Jeff Schuster, president of Americas operations and global vehicle forecasts for LMC.

“I think you’re looking at a week, maybe two weeks, before dealerships are depleted and consumers have to make choices or wait on taking a delivery,” he said. “Even though from a days-supply level it doesn’t look dire yet, it is starting to dwindle.”

Some dealerships said they were still in a good position to handle delays in getting more inventory. Eddy’s Chevrolet-Cadillac front-loads orders at the start of the model year, said Lance Jarmer, platform sales manager at Eddy’s Everything dealership group in Wichita, Kan.

“I was fortunate enough to have my first two big waves of 2020s that were built and shipped to me already before the strike,” Jarmer said. “We won’t feel any sort of pinch for another month, maybe two. We usually keep about five months of Silverado supply on the ground.”

When Kalafer doesn’t have a customer’s preferred vehicle on the lot, his team often consults the list of upcoming vehicle deliveries to find one. But without that ability, his store is already feeling a negative impact.

“We normally would sell some vehicles on the coming-in list,” he said. “Now that we know they’re not hitting the lots, they’re not being manufactured, we can’t take that build list and talk to a customer about it and sell it to them.”

Dealers say they fear that low inventory — or just declining numbers of certain trim levels, engines and feature combinations — could push prospective Chevy buyers to the brand’s pickup rivals.

“Our biggest competitor is Ram,” the Midwest dealer said. “Obviously, they’ve leapfrogged the Silverado, so it was already an issue.”

Even before the strike started, Jarmer said, “we are doing more dealer trades with other dealers specifically on Silverado than ever before because there are so many different options.”

Pickup buyers tend to be loyal to the segment, Schuster said. Shoppers who can’t find a pickup they want could choose to either postpone their purchase or shop elsewhere. “The longer this goes on,” he said, “the [higher] likelihood the delay turns into a defection.”

Jarmer expects that if the strike continues for another month, other Chevy dealers may ask to buy pickups from his store’s inventory.

“We might catch a bit of a cold,” he said. “But there are going to be some other dealers that, if [the strike] goes on, are going to have pneumonia.”

Vince Bond contributed to this report.

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