Industry anticipates increase in demand for military vehicles

General Motors and at least one maker of military vehicles are reviewing their plant capacities. George Baker III, GM's director of military trucks, would not comment on whether the automaker has been approached by the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Everyone is anticipating that there is going to be significantly higher levels of inquiries based on this possible call up," Baker said. "We have to be prepared for such inquires and be able to respond immediately."

One company, Oshkosh Truck Corp., of Oshkosh, Wis., said the federal government has inquired about its production capabilities.

"We've had no (new) orders. We have been contacted regarding availability of vehicles on the defense and fire side," said Kirsten Skyba, vice president of communications for Oshkosh. She would not say whether a timetable was mentioned or how many vehicles were discussed.

Oshkosh produces large specialty trucks and truck bodies for the defense, fire and emergency, concrete and refuse markets.

Regarding military applications, Skyba said Oshkosh's vehicles haul fuel and supplies.

Said a manager at one automaker, who did not want to be identified: "The most likely approach will be for folks who are in (military) procurement to determine exactly what is available and how quickly it is available. They would come to the AM Generals, the Oshkoshs, those in the business and say, 'Now, if we had a requirement for X amount of these type of vehicles, how quickly could you get it to us and what's the ballpark price that you are looking at.' "

Ready to respond

Craig MacNab, director of communications at AM General Corp. in South Bend, Ind., which produces the Humvee, said he was unaware of any contact between his company and the Pentagon.

"We're ready to respond to whatever the defense department needs, but it is way too soon for that kind of thing to have happened," he said. "In the war in the Middle East, just about the time the shooting started, they told us to start painting the trucks sand-colored instead of camouflage."

Steward & Stevenson of Sealy, Texas, a major maker of medium tactical vehicles, said the company has not been contacted.

While Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group do not produce military vehicles, GM produces military trucks based on its Chevrolet Silverado pickup and Suburban and Tahoe sport-utilities. GM also produces a limited number of medium-duty trucks for the military and a light-armor combat vehicle.

Support vehicles

GM categorizes the Silverado, Suburban and Tahoe as service support vehicles, designed "to be removed from the forward edge of the battle area," Baker said. "They provide administrative and logistic support to the tactical trucks that are up front, which are providing the support for the combat vehicles. So, we're a bit farther back."

The trucks start as black-colored civilian vehicles built at GM's assembly plants, and then each truck is shipped to up-fitters contracted by GM.

The up-fitters give each vehicle a military paint job, such as tri-color camouflage. In addition, each vehicle receives a 24-volt power converter, a NATO-required slave start receptacle for jump-starting the vehicle, blackout lighting, protective Kevlar covers over the constant velocity joints and other equipment.

GM's annual sales volume and specifics about military vehicles sold to countries outside the United States were not released. Baker said GM has produced nearly 80,000 military vehicles since the mid-1980s.

GM's wider role

Separately, GM produces the eight-wheeled LAV III, a light-armor vehicle that rides on run-flat tires. The LAV III is offered in more than 10 configurations and can be offered with a 105mm cannon or missile launcher. It also can be used as a fire-support vehicle, troop carrier or as an engineer support vehicle. It is produced at GM Defense headquarters in London, Ontario, which falls under the responsibility of the GM Locomotive Group.

A GM spokesman said the LAV III handles many of the military roles performed by heavier tanks. While a tank handles a larger gun, the LAV III is lighter and easier to transport, and it won't damage a road.

Last November, General Motors Defense and General Dynamics Land Systems received a $4 billion U.S. Army contract to produce 2,131 LAV

IIIs. Delivery began last year and will be completed in 2008.

In addition, turret systems for light-armored vehicles are produced at GM's Delco Defense Systems Operations in Goleta, Calif.

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