The traditional summer auto plant shutdown is quickly fading away.
With tight inventories, rising sales and customers flocking to big, profitable vehicles, the Detroit 3 no longer can afford to halt plants for two weeks.
Higher demand for pickups, SUVs and crossovers is largely behind the decisions to skip or shorten the downtime that historically has coincided with the beginning of the new model year.
Plant closings and flexible labor contracts have broken the cycle of overproducing and discounting. But the flip side is that automakers have to stretch their capacity quickly to keep up when the market is on an upswing.
Ford Motor Co. is reducing its shutdown schedule for a second consecutive year, with 20 of its 31 plants being idled for one week instead of two. Chrysler Group is eliminating time off at three of 10 assembly plants, all six engine plants and five of six transmission plants; four Chrysler assembly plants will shut for one week.
At General Motors, whose May 1 inventories were the largest of the three companies, sources say most plants will keep their usual shutdown plans in early July. But a plant building large crossovers is expected to stay open, and a heavy-duty pickup plant will be idled for just one week. A GM spokesman declined to reveal specifics.
The transplant automakers have historically not scheduled significant summer downtime for model changeovers and have not announced any major changes this year; most of their plants will close for no more than a week around the July 4 holiday.
Ford said its reduced downtime will increase output in North America by 40,000 units.
"Our plan is to continue to match our production capacity to sales demand, and at the moment we're tight on just about everything," Jim Tetreault, Ford's vice president of North America manufacturing, told Automotive News. "We'll employ a similar strategy next year if the demand's there."