GM to add second, third shifts at truck plants next week

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — General Motors Co. is ready to add second and third shifts at its profit-rich truck plants in Flint, Fort Wayne and Wentzville, Missouri next week.

The Detroit automaker also plans to add a second shifts two crossover plants: Spring Hill, Tennessee, and CAMI Assembly in Canada. The Lansing Delta Township crossover plant has been operating on two shifts. Meanwhile, five other U.S. assembly plants will operate on one production shift.

"The restart of vehicle production at General Motors’ component and assembly plants in North America has gone smoothly thanks to strong teamwork," GM said in a statement. "Our comprehensive safety procedures are working well, and our suppliers have done a great job implementing their return-to-work strategies and safety playbooks. We are now in a position to increase production to meet strengthening customer demand and strong dealer demand." 

GM, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV began a progressive restart of their plants the week of May 18 after an eight-week pandemic-induced shutdown. The Detroit News reported last week that a supplier issue in Mexico prevented the planned addition of second shifts at Flint and Fort Wayne the week of May 25. 

Second and third shifts at GM's heavy-duty truck plant in Flint will be added next week. Fort Wayne's light-duty truck plant will also add the shifts, as will the mid-size truck plant in Wentzville, Missouri.

"They are saying they’ve got enough [Mexico] plants operating to supply the trucks," said Rich LeTourneau, shop chairman at Local 2209 in Fort Wayne. "The market is definitely calling for our trucks. We have a lot of dealerships calling for them."

Fort Wayne builds light-duty Chevrolet Silverados and Sierras, and Flint makes the heavy-duty versions. Wentzville makes the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups.

The GM truck plants are vital to the Detroit automaker. They remained a bright spot in the first quarter despite the pandemic. Silverado sales jumped 26% to their highest level in at least the last five quarters, according to Cox Automotive. The hefty sales enabled Silverado to regain second place in the truck war with Fiat Chrysler's Ram. GMC Sierra sales were up 31%. 

GM was left with only a 68-day supply of the Silverado and a 59-day supply of the  Sierra, according to an early-May analysis by Cox.  In comparison, GM had a 79-day supply of the Silverado and an 83-day supply of the Sierra in March.

More than half of GM's North America revenue — about $65 billion annually — comes from truck sales.

The addition of shifts was good news to LeTourneau on Thursday. He doesn't want to see a permanent volume reduction, which would mean permanent job reduction. 

"The last thing you want to see is this turn into a permanent layoff," he said. 

Eric Welter, UAW Local 598 shop chairman at GM's Flint plant where heavy-duty trucks are built, was pleased to find out Thursday the supply issue got resolved and the other shifts could come back to work with the first shift.

"It's ambitious to bring both shifts in and get them oriented and up and running but we are up to the challenge," he said. "I think having the factory back to normal ... is a good deal as opposed to this one-shift operation we are not used to. We are used to seven days week and around the clock and to be running one shift for a couple weeks has been a little weird."

Welter was previously apprehensive about GM being able to protect his members from the deadly coronavirus while at work, but says the company has "really done a good job" with its safety measures.

"The real important part from the UAW perspective is we have market demand right now. We have customers out there that want our truck," Welter said. "If we don't satisfy that customer demand we could lose market share and therefore end up not being able to fund three shifts, so it's really important right now to protect that demand. "

"We really have to protect our jobs by coming back to work."

Twitter: @bykaleahall