GM won't increase van production

November 09, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

General Motors Corp. has dropped plans -- at least for now -- for a major increase in van production at its Broening Highway assembly plant, according to company and union officials.

Earlier this year, the company revealed that it was considering boosting capacity at the Baltimore plant to meet surging demand for the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari.

One of the options discussed between the company and union was the addition of a third shift that could have added up to 1,300 jobs.

It would have been the first around-the-clock production schedule in the plant's 59-year history.

"The subject has been dropped," Rodney A. Trump, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the 3,400 hourly workers at the plant, said yesterday. "All talks have ceased."

Sherrie Childers, a spokeswoman for GM's North American Truck Platforms in Pontiac, Mich., which oversees the operation of the Baltimore plant, said the company has no plans for a significant increase in production in Baltimore at this time.

Ms. Childers said the company will continue to monitor the van market and make any necessary adjustments. "But on a short-term basis, there is no plan to increase production in Baltimore."

A major factor in GM's decision, according to David E. Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, was Ford Motor Co.'s reversal earlier this year of its decision to discontinue production of its Aerostar van.

Last year, when Ford announced that it would replace its rear-wheel-drive Aerostar van with the new, more car-like, front-wheel-drive Windstar, the move was viewed by industry officials as a boon for GM's Baltimore plant.

Ford's move would have given the local plant a near-monopoly in the rear-wheel-drive midsize van market, Mr. Cole said. Although Mazda also makes a rear-drive van, it's a low-volume vehicle that doesn't have nearly the power of the GM models, he said.

Ford's original plan was to halt production of the Aerostar at a plant in St. Louis and convert the facility to build the hot-selling Explorer sport-utility vehicle. It later decided to build both vehicles at the plant.

GM's plans to add capacity at its Baltimore plant were sidetracked in August by a dispute with the union over the use of temporary workers. The union took the position that it did not want to boost production with workers who received less pay, no vacation and no benefits.

The plant had about 200 temporary workers. Some have been on the job for more than a year.

Mr. Trump said yesterday that there is no need for a major increase in van production to meet consumer demand. He said the plant had an 82-day supply of Safaris and Astros on Oct. 1, the latest inventory numbers available.

Mr. Cole described that inventory as slightly high, "but it's not too bad." He said the plant has a problem when the inventory number reaches 100 or drops below 40.

Mr. Cole said that GM also is reluctant to hire more workers and add a third shift unless it is certain that it would need the additional capacity for a long time.

"They don't want to be in a situation where they hire more workers and the demand drops off, then they have to pay people they have laid off," he said.

GM decided that it could meet current demand by having employees work overtime.

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