Editor's note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly named three General Motors plants as having overtime scheduled for this week and next. The article now reflects the correct plants.
Several automakers, led by Chrysler, will be working overtime during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period at North American plants that build SUVs, crossovers and pickups, signaling confidence that the U.S. light-truck market will remain hot heading into 2015.
At the same time, some companies are extending downtime at factories that assemble small and midsize cars -- a slice of the U.S. market in which demand has been weaker this year.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will switch from double- to single-production shifts for five consecutive days beginning Friday at two plants in Toledo, Ohio, that build the Jeep Wrangler, Wrangler Unlimited and Cherokee.
U.S. sales at Jeep, the industry’s hottest brand, have surged 44 percent this year to more than 629,000 through November.
Typically, North American assembly plants are idled between Christmas and New Year’s.
FCA’s plant in Belvidere, Ill., where the Dodge Dart and Jeep Patriot and Compass are assembled, is scheduled to operate a single shift on three days: Friday, Sunday and Dec. 29.
General Motors plans overtime at a U.S. plant that builds the new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups.
Overtime also is planned at GM’s Bowling Green, Ky., factory where the Chevrolet Corvette is built.
U.S. light-truck deliveries, aided by new models, falling gasoline prices and a strengthening economy, have climbed 10 percent this year through November while car sales have edged up just 1 percent. Overall, U.S. light-vehicle sales have climbed 6 percent this year and are on pace to increase for the fifth consecutive year following the industry’s 2008-09 collapse.
“We see a convergence of favorable economic circumstances pushing auto demand up to pre-recession levels, including continued gains in the job market, the best consumer sentiment in eight years and low fuel prices,” said John Krafcik, president of TrueCar. “This year has been remarkable in terms of growth and revenue coming from big gains in pickup, utility and luxury vehicle sales. We think 2015 will be even better.”
North American light-vehicle output is projected to reach 17.25 million this year, second only to 2000, when output reached 17.3 million, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
The plunge in gasoline prices in recent months has prompted some analysts to again raise their outlook for 2015 industry sales and output.
LMC Automotive last week raised its forecast for 2015 North American light-vehicle output to 17.4 million units from 17.2 million. That would mark a 3 percent increase from 2014’s projected production levels, LMC said.
“Investment in the region will increase overall capacity by nearly 500,000 units, and, coupled with strong regional vehicle demand, a more positive production outlook is expected,” LMC said.
Overall, GM’s 17 North American assembly plants will be idled for most or all of this week and next. Several GM factories also will extend downtime beyond Jan. 5 for a combination of plant maintenance, retooling and production adjustments to meet market demand.
GM’s two large pickup plants, in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Flint, Mich., will be down for plant maintenance the week of Jan. 5 and resume output on Jan. 12, according to two people with knowledge of the schedule.
GM’s Fairfax assembly plant near Kansas City, Kansas, which makes the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse, will be down for seven consecutive weeks starting today, resuming production on Feb. 9, sources said.
GM spokesman Bill Grotz would not confirm the duration of the downtime planned at Fairfax but said the factory would be idled for maintenance and facility projects “aimed at improving the plant’s future competitiveness,” including work on a new paint shop. He said GM produced enough Malibus and LaCrosses in advance to meet customer demand during the shutdown.
Two GM plants will halt production for an extra two weeks after the holidays, resuming their schedules Jan. 19, according to the Automotive News Data Center: The Lansing, Mich., plant that assembles the Cadillac ATS and CTS; and the “Flex” line at GM’s Oshawa, Ontario, plant, which produces the Buick Regal, Cadillac XTS, Chevy Camaro and Impala.
Cadillac’s U.S. car sales have slumped 15 percent this year, and its overall deliveries have skidded 6 percent.
Nissan Motor Corp., an automaker outpacing the U.S. market this year, has no plans for holiday overtime. The company’s North American plants will go dark after Tuesday and resume output on Jan. 5, a spokesman said.
Toyota Motor Corp., which has seen light-truck sales rise nearly 12 percent, will also idle its plants from Wednesday through Jan. 4.
At Ford Motor Co., the holiday break is the start of more than a month of downtime on the truck side of its Kansas City plant. F-150 production will be stopped from Tuesday through Feb. 15 to prepare for building the redesigned 2015 pickup.
Ford has scheduled extra downtime at plants where it builds many of its car nameplates, including the Fiesta, Fusion, Focus, C-Max and Lincoln MKZ.
Meanwhile, workers are putting in overtime to build the Super Duty, Escape and Lincoln MKC. The portion of the Kansas City plant that builds Transit vans also is scheduled to operate on overtime.
Plants in Georgia and Alabama that build the Hyundai Elantra, Sonata and Santa Fe and the Kia Optima and Sorento, have scheduled overtime, as well, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
Mitsubishi has scheduled overtime at a plant in Normal, Ill., where the Outlander Sport crossover is built. Sales of the vehicle have surged 25 percent this year to 28,299, helping Mitsubishi’s overall U.S. deliveries rise 27 percent.
Nick Bunkley, Mike Colias and Larry Vellequette contributed to this report.