DETROIT – Consumers may soon feel the effects of the UAW's strike against General Motors.
Car dealers say it's become increasingly difficult because of the strike to get GM-certified parts for cars in need of repairs or body work.
"The parts impact is greater for us than the vehicle inventory impact is at the moment," said John Pitre, chief operating officer for Motor City Buick GMC in Bakersfield, California. "If you need an outside door handle for a 2018 GMC Sierra pickup, there’s only one place to get it, and they’re closed.”
For its part, GM said it has put in a process to mitigate the parts impact on consumers, including shipping parts directly from suppliers to dealers and, in cases of warranty or recall work, offering customers free transportation if they must wait for service.
About 46,000 UAW workers at GM plants nationwide went on strike Sept. 16. Bargainers have met daily, including over the weekend, from early morning until evening. In a letter sent to UAW members Wednesday afternoon, Terry Dittes, vice president for the UAW's GM Department, said UAW negotiators have been working "countless hours" to reach a tentative contract with GM.
Bargainers broke off early Wednesday evening and were to resume talks Thursday morning.
'Just in time'
At Motor City Buick GMC, Pitre said he has plenty of GM vehicles left to sell.
“The pipeline of vehicles for us is about two weeks deep, so we haven’t felt anything yet because everything that we’ve ordered is still moving towards us," said Pitre.
But repair parts are often ordered on an as needed basis.
"We have lots of those that are en route and we have lots of vehicles that are in need of parts," Pitre said. He has about 50 vehicles awaiting parts for repairs, normally he has about 15.
“Most customers are being understanding," said Pitre. "We’re digging through other dealers’ parts to get what we can and looking in the aftermarket. But there are things you can’t get, especially for a newer vehicle."
George Matick Chevrolet in Redford, Michigan, said it, too, has "a little bit of an issue" with getting parts.
"We're feeling it with certain parts. It has to do mostly with special-order parts that are not in abundance in dealerships for trade," said dealer Paul Zimmerman of George Matick Chevrolet.
A special-order part could be any braking system part for a Chevrolet Corvette, for example.
"But we've been OK for the standard stuff, you need a brake for an Equinox, that hasn't been a part of the issue," said Zimmerman.
GM said the automaker is aware that dealers have a limited supply of parts, but "we are supplementing customer needs with inventories from a group of more than 300 wholesale dealers and ACDelco distributors," said Jim Cain, GM spokesman.
GM said it has also made arrangements to have many high- volume maintenance and repair service parts shipped directly from its suppliers to dealers.
"GM and our dealers are working hard to minimize any customer inconvenience due to the UAW strike and we have taken a number of steps to keep parts flowing to dealers," said Cain. "If critical recall or warranty repairs are delayed because of parts availability, our dealers are pleased to offer complimentary courtesy transportation.”
In terms of new car inventory, though, Zimmerman and Pitre say no problem. At Matick, Zimmerman's biggest sellers are the 2019 Chevrolet Equinox SUV and the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.
"Inventory, ours is pretty strong," said Zimmerman. "We have over 1,100 cars on the ground and we have about 450 that are marked as in transit and most of those are still getting delivered. I haven’t seen any interruption."
But he added: "Right now we’re in a good spot. But I hope it gets resolved quickly.”
While Teamsters are honoring UAW picket lines and not delivering vehicles that were assembled before the strike, GM is moving vehicles that it had parked off of factory lots and is using non-Teamster truckers for transport from plant grounds.
At Raymond Auto Group in Antioch, Illinois, new-car inventory is good. Dealer Mark Scarpelli said he has about 70 new Silverado pickups at his two Chevrolet stores.
"We’ve got a deep shelf," said Scarpelli. "Where we’re feeling the pain is in the parts area. Some maintenance type items: windshield wipers, mufflers, alternators ... from General Motors. The stock has dwindled."
Scarpelli said he has made trades for parts with other dealers, but knows that the longer the strike goes, which keeps GM's parts plants idled, those other dealers' supplies of parts will start to dwindle too.
Automotive suppliers are, of course, also being affected, but the impact is not equal.
Thomas Klier, senior economist and research adviser for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said to think of the situation as a domino effect. The initial impact is on the company making vehicles. Beyond that are companies which ship directly to the automaker and further out are companies that supply those suppliers.
“The key element here is duration. The longer (the strike) lasts, the more supplier production is affected,” Klier said, noting that the impact on most companies should be temporary.
Jeoff Burris, founder and principal of Advanced Purchasing Dynamics, said suppliers who provide parts daily or hourly would have been affected immediately by the strike.
“Seat suppliers for example have plants very close to (automakers) and ship multiple times per day to assembly plants. They have limited availability for storage,” Burris said. “Other suppliers will stop production soon as well as they do not want their inventory to balloon. When they stop their production, they will also curtail orders from their suppliers.”
Follow Jamie L. LaReau on Twitter: @jlareauan.