GM cuts lunch break to boost output of Colorado, Canyon pickups

Article by Andrew Christian, on May 28, 2015

General Motors had a pleasant surprise when its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups sold very quickly but with it comes the dilemma of having to meet demand. Its latest move to add production at its St. Louis-area truck plant was to cut an unpaid lunch break. GM had reshuffled its schedule to eliminate the production lull between shifts of 6 minutes.

In a day with three shifts, doing this translates to an extra 18 minutes of production. In a year, that’s 3,500 more trucks built. This is just one example of how car companies are finding creative ways to boost production from their plants instead of pouring more investment into new factories.

GM has been vigorously working to fill the high demand for the midsize pickups and the Chevy Express and GMC Savana commercial vans, which also roll out from Wentzville. A plant worker said that GM is hiring up to 1,000 "flex" workers. Most of them will fill shifts on Saturday and Sunday.

This move is anticipated to increase capacity by over 2,000 trucks each month. Last March, a third shift was added in the plant, bringing full-time employment to 3,500 hourly employees. Capacity at this plant is already tight so it’s very difficult to set production schedules.

When the Colorado and Canyon started production late last summer, it was a tricky time since consumers had shifted from smaller pickups to bigger vehicles and trucks in recent years. That’s why it was difficult to gauge the demand for these models.

Sources said that the fast pace of sales for the Colorado and Canyon took GM by surprise. Actual sales surpassed expectations as demand grew quickly amid low gasoline prices and good reviews for the trucks.

J.D. Power revealed that as of the middle of May, Colorado pickups only spent about 12 days on dealer lots before they were sold. This is one of the quickest turn rates in the industry and is its fastest pace since the model was launched last fall.

Insiders said that GM officials believed that demand will exceed their earlier predictions as fuel prices were persistently low. However, it takes several months to make adjustments to suppliers’ schedules so that more trucks are made.

This year, GM’s Wentzville plant will build about 140,000 midsize pickups, according to Clifford Swenson, editor of The Monthly Autocast, which predicts automotive production. This is higher than its previous estimate of around 119,000.

Meanwhile, the commercial vans’ supply was squeezed as GM aims to produce more pickups. It’s estimated that the factory builds two pickups for every van. Dealer orders for 2015 vans were cut off around October, about six months earlier than usual.

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