Slow sales likely to close Lordstown GM plant for a week

By Don Shilling

General Motors is likely to shut down its Lordstown complex for a week in March because of slow sales of the Chevrolet Cobalt, an official said.

Tom Mock, a GM spokesman, said the shutdown is planned for mid-March, but added that future sales results could change the decision.

“We continuously look at ways to align production with demand, and we’re taking a look at those now,” he said.

Jim Graham, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, said company executives have been considering changes at the complex for some time.

They had been concerned because the field supply of Cobalts had risen to more than 100 days, but that concern has lessened as the supply has dropped to 80 days. Automakers like to keep the inventory at about 60 days.

Demand for the Cobalt was down for almost all 2009. August was the only month when U.S. car dealers sold more Cobalts last year than they did the year before.

GM brought back the afternoon shift to the complex this past October, which restored the jobs of 1,000 hourly and 50 salaried workers.

GM said the additional workers were needed to increase the supply of Cobalts but also prepare for the launch of the Chevrolet Cruze, which will debut in the U.S. this summer. GM slowed the speed of the assembly line as it started making test models of the Cruze.

The Cobalt posted its worst monthly sales of the year in October and November, however. Sales rose somewhat in December.

For 2009, GM sold 104,724 Cobalts, down 44 percent from 188,038 sold the year before.

The complex operated with one shift for much of last year, although all production was shut down for much of the summer because of slow sales.

Workers receive most of their pay through state unemployment compensation and supplemental company benefits when they are laid off.

Union officials are optimistic that demand for the Cruze will be high enough that GM will add a third shift of workers to the complex eventually.

The complex has about 3,400 hourly workers on its two shifts.

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