GM still cutting a shift

Brass undeterred by 12.6% sales jump for Astro and Safari

Area manufacturing

June 09, 2000|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp. said yesterday that it will stand by its decision to halt second-shift production at its Baltimore assembly plant next month despite strong sales of the vans made here.

U.S. sales of the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari for the first five months of the year are running 12.6 percent ahead of last year's sales pace. And last year's sales were nearly 6 percent ahead of the 1998 pace.

Total U.S. minivan sales are up 10.6 percent during the first five months of the year compared with the corresponding part of 1999.

"There is no doubt about it. Sales of our Baltimore vans are very solid at this time," said Dan Flores, a spokesman for GM's Truck Group in Pontiac, Mich., which has jurisdiction over the Broening Highway plant.

Asked if the sales gain was enough for GM to reconsider its decision to end the second shift, eliminating about 1,200 jobs, Flores responded: "Absolutely not. Our decision was based on a long-term forecast of the market."

He said the last two-shift day at the plant will be June 30. At that time the plant will close for two weeks for model changeover. When production of the 2001 vans begins July 17, production will be limited to one shift.

Flores said Astro and Safari sales have been boosted by a $1,000 factory rebate and a value-pricing system that packs a lot of extras into the vehicles at a low cost.

"We are putting a significant amount of money on the hood to keep them moving," he said.

Looking farther ahead, Flores said that, when GM officials forecast future market demand for Astro and Safari, "we looked at a product that hasn't changed in 15 years. Our forecast is for softening sales long-term."

To meet current demand, workers at the Baltimore plant have been asked to work occasional overtime.

"We have worked two or three Saturdays and there has been some daily overtime," said Brian Goebel, a spokesman for the local plant. He said the overtime made up for production lost in January due to bad weather.

GM has committed to keeping the van plant, currently the city's largest manufacturing employer with 2,400 jobs, open only until the third quarter of 2003. "After that," Flores said, "the market will determine it future."

He said GM has no plans to redesign the Astro and Safari.

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