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GM Orion plant to idle production for 2 weeks

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co.’s Orion Assembly Plant in Orion Township will cease production for two weeks in coming months to help trim small-car inventories.

The Orion plant will idle production the week of Feb. 16 and April 6, according to two sources familiar with the company’s plans.

GM spokesman Bill Grotz said the automaker doesn’t comment on production scheduling at its plants. “We build to market demand,” he said.

Workers at Orion Assembly build the small Buick Verano and subcompact Chevrolet Sonic. Sales of small cars have been hurt as gas prices have fallen below $2 a gallon. Inventory levels are high.

GM had 127 days’ supply of the Sonic at the beginning of the month and 84 days’ supply of the Verano, according to LMC Automotive. Carmakers should typically keep about 60 to 65 days of supply for cars, said Bill Rinna, senior manager of North American forecasting for LMC Automotive.

“Fuel prices are part of the equation, giving customers a little more spending power to move up in the showroom or into another segment,” Rinna said in a statement. “This, along with the popularity of crossovers, puts pressure on small and compact cars and the Sonic and Verano are especially affected, given they are long in their lifecycle without a significant refresh.”

Production woes of small cars isn’t limited to GM. Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne also took an additional week of downtime this month following its traditional two-week holiday shutdown because of lagging demand for small gasoline-powered and hybrid cars. Workers at Michigan Assembly build the gasoline and battery-electric versions of the Ford Focus, Focus ST, Ford C-Max hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle and Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid.

In November, GM said it would lay off 160 employees at Orion Assembly beginning this month through the end of 2015. The plant has about 1,750 hourly workers.

Those plans to cut employees and production at Orion were to reduce capacity from 45 to about 37 cars per hour. A plant spokesman declined to comment on whether any layoffs have occurred yet this year.

Sales of the Sonic rose 9.2 percent last year to 93,518, while sales of the Verano fell 3.9 percent to 43,743.

In November, GM announced it would invest $160 million into Orion for tooling and equipment for a future vehicle. GM has not named the vehicle or the timing, but several people close to the company believe the vehicle coming to Orion could be a new battery-electric that GM’s global product chief Mark Reuss in October mentioned during an investors’ conference.

GM, earlier this month at the North American International Auto Show, showed a concept Chevrolet Bolt electric car that would have more than 200 miles of range. GM executives would not comment on where the Bolt would be built if GM produces it.

Automotive News reported the downtime for Orion earlier Friday.

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