GM Strike Starting to Hit Some Customers

Dealers and car buyers are starting to feel the pain of a strike at General Motors Corp’s Lansing Delta Township plant that is nearly a month old.

Some customers are dropping plans to buy one of the crossover vehicles made at the plant because the walkout has halted production, leading to longer-than-expected waits for custom–ordered Buick Enclaves or GMC Acadias.

And dealers are starting to find the vehicles harder to come by.

“I couldn’t wait any longer,” said John Regen, a 38-year-old accountant from Monroe, N.J., who placed an order for an Enclave on Feb. 21. Last week, Regen canceled his Enclave order and bought a Mazda CX-9.

The long and fruitless wait for an Enclave led him to feel “very disappointed,” Regen said. “My dealer had no idea when the Enclave would be coming in.”

Inventory is getting thin on dealer lots, said auto dealer Jeff Crippen of Crippen Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Mazda, Volvo in Delta Township.

While he has vehicles on-hand for customers to test-drive, Crippen said “selection is not what it was before.”

The latest inventory numbers published Monday in trade magazine Automotive News show a slight drop in inventory levels for the Enclave, Acadia and the Saturn Outlook, the third vehicle made at the Delta Township plant.

As of May 1, there was a 38-day supply of Enclaves, down from 40 days as of April 1. The Acadia’s supply fell to 54 days from 57, while the Outlook had a 96-day supply on hand, down from 101 days.

Inventory levels are described by a “days supply” that shows how long it would take to deplete existing inventories at current selling rates if no new vehicles are made. A 60-day supply is the industry standard for vehicles.

To some, the latest statistics might seem to indicate the strike by 2,300 workers represented by United Auto Workers Local 602 has had little impact on GM’s supply.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story, said Erich Merkle, lead forecaster for automotive research firm IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids.

That’s because the Automotive News numbers reflect a point in time nearly two weeks ago, he said. Workers have been on strike since April 17, meaning 11 days are not accounted for in the report.

“It’ll probably show much more of a dramatic effect at the end of this month,” Merkle said. “It’s definitely getting harder to find some of these vehicles.”

That will put pressure on GM to settle the strike, he said.

“These are not their slow-selling vehicles,” Merkle said. “These are the vehicles that GM has to have out there.”

But GM spokesman John McDonald said the strike has had “no effect.”

“There is an adequate supply to meet current retail demand on dealer lots,” he said.

Some shoppers haven’t found that to be the case.

Emily Folkestad of LaGrand, Ore., custom-ordered an Enclave on March 28 but gave up waiting for it when the strike began. She looked for a similar Enclave on a dealer lot and found one – 400 miles away.

“I wish I could have spent my money in my town, but it was a choice between waiting what could have been a long time or taking my money elsewhere,” she said. “The strike is making many other potential Enclave buyers deal with the very same choices I’ve had to mull over the past few weeks.”

Other buyers have decided to wait out the strike.

Terri DiLisi of Cleveland ordered her Enclave on Feb. 28 and continues to wait for it because it is the vehicle she and her husband like best.

McDonald said he couldn’t comment on problems some customers have encountered because he was not familiar with their individual situations.

DiLisi supports the strikers, too, she said.

“Strikes are frustrating, but I’m all for the working guy,” she said.

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