Dealers are starving for more hot-selling Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups. And workers at General Motors' St. Louis-area truck plant are starving themselves to eke out a few more of them.
The Wentzville, Mo., factory recently cut an unpaid lunch break, part of a broader schedule reshuffling that eliminated the six-minute production lulls between shifts. The result: An extra 18 minutes of production in a three-shift day, which should translate into more than 3,500 more trucks a year.
It's a small example of how automakers are finding ways to wring more production from their factories as sales march higher, rather than sinking capital into new plants.
GM is scrambling to fill surprisingly strong demand for the midsize pickups and the Chevy Express and GMC Savana commercial vans, also made in Wentzville. The company is hiring as many as 1,000 "flex" workers, mostly to fill Saturday and Sunday shifts, a move that should boost capacity by more than 2,000 trucks a month, according to a plant worker and another person familiar with the moves. That comes even after the plant added a third shift in March, increasing full-time employment to 3,500 hourly workers.
The moves also highlight the increased difficulty of setting production schedules in an era of tight factory capacity.
Gauging demand was especially tricky for the Colorado and Canyon, which went into production late last summer as a major gamble by GM after consumers had largely abandoned smaller pickups in recent years in favor of larger trucks and other vehicles.