Winter storm halts production at Ford, GM plants across country

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

A major winter storm that was slated to hit large swaths of the country with snow, ice and freezing temperatures this week prompted Detroit automakers to pull back on production — the latest in a recent string of manufacturing disruptions that have threatened the auto industry's recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Ford Motor Co. confirmed Monday that it had cancelled operations at its Kansas City Assembly Plant in Missouri beginning this past Saturday and continuing until Feb. 22. And General Motors Co. said it would have weather-related production impacts at four plants in Texas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The weather-related production cuts effectively are delivering a double whammy to some of the U.S industry's most profitable vehicles, as the automakers continue to navigate the deepening effects of a global microchip shortage.

"Due to unseasonably cold temperatures in the midsection of the United States, Ford was warned that the availability of natural gas could be restricted in the Kansas City area in the coming days," company spokeswoman Kelli Felker said in a statement. The decision to cancel production this week, she said, was made "to ensure we minimize our use of natural gas that is critical to heat people's homes."

Kansas City Assembly builds the F-150 pickup, Ford's cash cow. The Dearborn automaker is in the midst of launching the new 2021 model year of the truck. Kansas City also builds the Transit cargo van.

GM said Monday that it had canceled three shifts Sunday and Monday at its Arlington Assembly Plant in Texas, which builds the GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, and the Cadillac Escalade.

Monday's second shift was cancelled at GM's Bowling Green Assembly Plant in Kentucky, which builds Corvettes, as well as at the automaker's Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri, which makes the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Chevy Express and GMC Savana.

And three shifts were cancelled between Sunday and Monday at GM's Spring Hill Assembly Plant in Tennessee, which builds the Cadillac XT5 and XT6, GMC Acadia, and Holden Acadia, as well as engines.

A company spokesman said Monday afternoon that the automaker still was determining how production at those facilities would be impacted going forward. During downtime, eligible union-represented auto workers receive approximately 75% of their gross pay.

Meanwhile, the auto industry continues to battle a global shortage of semiconductors, crucial components that power the automated and electronic features in vehicles. The shortage has caused a slew of production disruptions for automakers around the world, and industry experts say the crisis likely won't be resolved until the second half of the year.

In the latest hit to its manufacturing schedule, Ford cancelled an overtime shift at its Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville — which builds Ford F-250 through F-550 Super Duty Trucks, the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator — that had been scheduled for Feb. 13.

Last week, both plants where the F-150 is built — Kansas City and Dearborn Truck Plant — operated on reduced shifts due to the shortage. The Blue Oval also has seen previous disruptions to production at facilities in Chicago, Louisville, and Ontario, as well as at plants in other global markets.

GM shut down plants in Kansas, Mexico and Canada last week because of the shortage. And Stellantis NV's Windsor Assembly Plant in Ontario currently is shut down for the same reason.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski