NEW YORK (AP) — General Motors Corp.’s latest plan to return to profitability calls for the struggling automaker to close five more plants than it originally expected. The lingering question is which plants will be the first to go.
It’s a question GM has not yet answered, but industry experts think overcapacity is likely to claim one of the company’s remaining pickup truck factories, as well as powertrain and parts stamping plants in communities that are already among the hardest-hit by the auto industry downturn.
Many experts who study automobile manufacturing were reluctant to name specific plants that could be on the chopping block. Some cited fears of a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” But a look at what GM is already producing and what is — or isn’t — selling offers some clues.
Haig Stoddard, auto analyst with IHS Global Insight, said truck and SUV plants are more vulnerable, given recent sales trends. GM’s assembly plant in Pontiac, Mich. — one of three U.S. plants that make Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups — could be a target, Stoffard said.
Silverado and Sierra sales combined fell 46 percent in the first two months of the year compared with the same period of 2008.
GM’s Shreveport, La., assembly plant could also be also at risk, analysts said. The factory’s 1,500 workers make Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks, along with the Hummer H3 and H3T. Sales of trucks have collapsed, while GM has already announced plans to sell the Hummer brand, whose sales have fallen by nearly two-thirds.
“The two things that would make [a plant] vulnerable is, one, the product at the plant and, two, its remoteness from the Midwest,” said James Rubenstein, a professor of geography at Miami University in Ohio who has studied auto plant closures in the past.
It’s difficult to name specific plants, however, because GM has numerous options to shift capacity as it shrinks its product lineup and production volumes, he said.
“It is a guessing game,” Stoddard said. “But they’re still in a position where they have to do draconian-type cuts. ... They can’t be bleeding the kind of money that they are.”
Last year, GM announced it would close pickup truck and SUV plants in Moraine, Ohio; Janesville, Wis.; Oshawa, Ontario; and Toluca, Mexico. Meanwhile, GM closed only one stamping plant — near Grand Rapids, Mich. — and no engine or transmission factories.
That means GM probably has more stamping and powertrain capacity than it needs. One possible candidate for closure, analysts said, is GM’s metal stamping plant at Mansfield, Ohio, where 1,250 workers make metal parts for many of GM’s slow-selling trucks and sport utility vehicles.
On the powertrain side, the company’s V-6 and V-8 engine plant in Romulus, Mich., and its Willow Run transmission facility in Ypsilanti, Mich., could be vulnerable. Those plants, with 900 and 1,500 workers, respectively, are closely tied to truck production, which GM already has slashed.
Many of the plants at risk are in areas already among the hardest- hit by the downturn in the auto industry. GM and other automakers have shut down plants or cut their shifts in recent years to cope with shrinking market share, with states across the Midwest battered by the job losses.
Michigan’s unemployment rate hit 11.6 percent in January, the highest in the country, and the city of Pontiac’s multimillion-dollar budget deficit prompted Gov. Jennifer Granholm to declare a financial emergency there.
Doug Bowman, president of United Auto Workers Local 594 at the Pontiac truck plant, said company officials who visited this week gave no indication that it would close soon. In fact, the plant’s production has increased slightly since January in anticipation of a rebound in truck sales, he said.