Supplies of GMC's Sierra full-sized pickup have been crimped because of problems with the dies that stamp the truck's hoods and front fenders.
Production of the hot-selling 1999 Sierras slowed in mid-November as General Motors tackled the problem.
Stamping runs of the Sierra's body panels at GM's Metal Fabricating Center in Flint, Mich., revealed a flaw: The steel hood and fenders pressed by the dies did not match up tightly where the fenders taper to a point at the front of the truck, said a GM source.
The situation cropped up after production of the Sierra's panels had begun, said a spokesman for GM. He said production of the Sierra's twin, the Chevrolet Silverado - which uses different front-end panels - was increased to make up for the lost Sierras.
Despite the increase in Silverado production, some planned output was lost because of the problem, sources said. The company is not yet reporting production numbers for the trucks; GM said lost units will be made up in the next few weeks through overtime.
ROUND IS TOUGHER
The trouble stems from the Sierra's styling, which is more rounded than the Silverado's. At the nose, the steel must bend in several directions within a narrow space. The dies were not able to maintain these compound curves and still make the panels fit, a source said.
'A few years ago it would have been no big deal,' said the GM employee, who requested anonymity. 'As picky as we are nowadays on fit and appearance, it was noticeable enough that we had to fix it.'
Workers in Flint spent three weeks modifying and testing each of the dies to solve the stamping problem. Regular production of the Sierra's panels resumed over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
GM said no vehicles were shipped to dealers with the misshaped panels.
The Sierra is supposed to account for about 25 percent of GM's total production of full-sized pickups. The truck is assembled in Oshawa, Ontario, and Pontiac, Mich., which are building trucks to GM's planned full line speed. Another plant, in Fort Wayne, Ind., has begun production and is expected to reach full line speed on Dec. 17.
Tom Hoar, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 222 in Oshawa, said the plant has been averaging 1,260 trucks a day, almost all Silverados.
FILLING THE PIPELINE
This week, Sierra production is scheduled to shoot up to about 35 percent of Oshawa's output until the pipeline is refilled, said Lerick Chissus, director of metal purchasing for the GM Truck Group.
He said the die problems were unexpected snags in a launch that is otherwise on schedule. The launch is being watched closely by the industry and Wall Street as a gauge of GM's efforts to revamp its manufacturing and product-development practices.
The shortfall has put some dealers in a bind.
John Beck, vice president of Beck and Masten Pontiac-GMC in Houston, has only 12 new Sierras on a lot that normally would contain 125 to 150.
'We're sitting here with just a 10-day supply, and we're told that there's nothing coming for December,' he said. Beck said he has considered complaining to GM's local field staff, but 'they're kind of in a funk themselves.'