GM idles Chevy Malibu plant, tries to clear glut
DETROIT -- General Motors has idled the primary U.S. assembly plant that makes the Chevrolet Malibu for nearly three weeks amid swollen inventories of the mid-sized sedan.
GM's Fairfax, Kansas, plant was closed last week and will remain idled this week to allow Malibu demand to catch up with inventory levels, union sources said.
GM also canceled shifts Jan. 2-4, when the plant's 3,500 workers were supposed to return from their holiday break. Production now is set to resume Jan. 7, after a combined 20 days of down time, including a seven-day holiday break.
A GM spokeswoman confirmed that the plant "is taking idle time in December," to "make sure we are aligning our production with demand." She wouldn't confirm details about the production schedule. The Buick LaCrosse sedan is also assembled at the plant.
GM North America President Mark Reuss acknowledged last week that GM had adjusted plant schedules to better align output with the automaker's sales but wouldn't specify which models. He said sales were strong during the first two weeks of December.
On Dec. 1, GM's inventory stood at 788,200 units, or a 106-day supply, the highest level since April 2009, a few months before GM's government-led bankruptcy. GM executives have said that inventories rose higher than their targets and that the company would take steps to reduce stockpiles.
Also this week, GM canceled shifts at its Lordstown, Ohio, plant, where the Chevy Cruze is assembled.
Stocks of the Malibu, which was redesigned for the 2013 model year, stood at a 164-day supply on Dec. 1. The vast majority of that inventory was of the 2013 models. Dealers had sold through most of their 2012 stocks this spring and summer amid heavy discounting to make way for the redesigned sedan.
GM also builds a smaller number of Malibu sedans at a plant in Detroit and Hamtramck, Mich.
Malibu sales have climbed 4 percent this year to 199,321 through November, but trail the industry's overall 14 percent growth. Malibu sales have dipped since August, when the redesigned 2013 model was fully rolled out.
The Malibu is squaring off in a competitive segment against the redesigned Volkswagen Passat, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion.
Last month, GM CEO Dan Akerson said GM accelerated a refresh of the Malibu to debut in the fall, just 18 months after the car's debut. A mid-cycle refresh typically happens at the three-year mark under GM's normal cadence.
Akerson said he was aware of the mixed reviews that the Malibu has received from the automotive press. He did not say that the refresh is being fast-tracked in response to sour reviews or slow initial sales.
Akerson called the planned changes a "mid-cycle enhancement" and said they would include a new front fascia. GM could be planning to incorporate the wider grille featured on the redesigned 2013 Chevy Impala and reskinned 2013 Traverse crossover, a new face that is expected to be incorporated across much of Chevy's lineup.
GM workers assemble about 1,200 cars daily during three shifts at the Fairfax plant outside of Kansas City, Kansas. The factory employs about 3,500 hourly workers and 315 salaried workers.
"We have strategically built Chevrolet Malibu stock levels based on scheduled downtime and a strengthening vehicle market," the GM statement said. "This idle time gives us an opportunity to conduct scheduled facility projects aimed at improving the plant's future competitiveness."
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