High demand cuts summer auto shutdowns

DETROIT — Brisk sales of pickups and SUVs are causing the Detroit Three to eliminate or shorten their traditional two-week summer shutdown at many U.S. plants.

This year, Chrysler workers will be on the job the next two weeks at four assembly plants, while Ford will idle at least four plants for only one week. General Motors will keep about one-third of its plants running.

Historically, automakers halt production for the first two weeks in July to prepare for model year changeovers.

GM, Ford and Chrysler closed more than two dozen plants during the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009. Now, with cars and trucks rising to levels not seen since 2007, there is little slack in their manufacturing networks.

“Today, plant downtime scheduling is driven by specific vehicle life cycles and market demand,” said GM spokesman Bill Grotz. “This approach gives us more flexibility and enables quicker response to market conditions.”

At GM, summer shutdowns vary by timing of new or refreshed models. Grotz declined to say which plants GM plans to keep running through July.

Several of the plants Ford and Chrysler will keep open make pickups or SUVs.

Chrysler’s U.S. sales have increased 12 percent over the first half of this year, more than the overall industry’s 4 percent increase, putting pressure on the company to produce enough to meet demand.

“I think our plants are doing a good job of keeping up,” said Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s U.S. sales chief. “But they are able to keep up by doing things like shortening summer shutdowns, working some overtime.”

In addition to four assembly plants, Chrysler will operate all its engine and transmission plants throughout the next two weeks, except for Indiana Transmission Plant II in Kokomo, Ind.

The assembly plants that will operate without interruption are Jefferson North Assembly in Detroit; Sterling Heights, Mich.; and Saltillo and Toluca, Mexico.

Many of Ford’s plants will shut down for maintenance this week and next, said spokeswoman Kristina Adamski.

But demand for trucks, specifically the F-Series pickups and Ford Explorer and Escape utility vehicles, requires Ford to keep four assembly plants and seven powertrain and stamping plants running for one week.

Ford’s Dearborn, Mich., truck plant will shut down from Aug. 25 to Sept. 21 to retool for the 2015 F-150, which features an aluminum body.

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PLANTS WITH A SHORTENED OR NO SUMMER SHUTDOWN

The following Detroit Three assembly plants are either working through the Detroit Three’s traditional summer shutdown or will be closed only for one week. They include:

Chrysler:

-Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, where Chrysler makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango, will work through the summer shutdown.

-Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., where Chrysler began making the all new Chrysler 200 in May, will work through the summer shutdown.

-Saltillo Van Assembly in Mexico, where the company produces the Ram ProMaster commercial van, will work through the summer shutdown.

-Toluca Assembly in Mexico, where Chrysler makes the Dodge Journey, Fiat 500 and Fiat Freemont, will work through the summer shutdown.

Ford:

-Chicago Assembly, which makes Ford Explorer and Taurus, Lincoln MKS, police vehicles.

-Kansas City Assembly, which makes F-Series.

-Louisville Assembly, which makes the Ford Escape and Lincoln MKC.

-Kentucky Truck, which makes Ford Super Duty and Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.

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