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Lordstown down at least until Monday

March 5, 2011
Special to the Salem News

WARREN - A fire at a Detroit-area auto parts plant earlier this past week will keep production at the Lordstown General Motors plant idled at least until Monday.

GM Communications Manager Tom Mock said Friday the temporary production suspension at the Lordstown Complex has been extended through Monday, and includes both East and West plants.

Employees are being advised that those workers needed to support the suspension and eventual start-up will be notified by their leadership. Workers are encouraged to monitor area news reports and call the company's information line, where updates are being provided daily at 800-934-9244.

GM canceled production shifts Thursday at assembly plants in Flint, Mich., and Lordstown and made changes at several others due to the blaze. The Lordstown factory, which makes the hot-selling Chevrolet Cruze small car, will be shut down temporarily, while two shifts have been canceled Monday at a crossover vehicle factory near Lansing, Mich., GM spokesman Chris Lee said. It's wait-and-see for a lot of other factories including transmission and parts plants, he said.

The fire at a Magna International Inc. interior parts plant near Howell, Mich., is having ripple effects on five automakers, forcing General Motors Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. to stop making cars at some factories because they've run short of parts.

The impact of Wednesday's blaze shows how years of work to make auto plants more efficient can fall apart when something interrupts the flow of parts in an intricate supply chain.

The damaged Magna plant also makes parts for several Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., and Chrysler Group LLC vehicles. Ford, Nissan and Chrysler factories have stayed open, but it's uncertain for how long as Magna studies options to reopen the plant or make parts elsewhere.

If the Magna plant, which makes ceilings, consoles and other interior parts, is closed for a long time, it could hurt the automakers' sales if inventories become depleted on dealer lots just as the big spring and summer auto sales months approach.

For the past three decades, auto companies have cut costs and become more efficient by going to a just-in-time parts delivery system so they can avoid paying for huge stockpiles of parts.

To avoid buying costly machinery, many parts companies make a particular part at only one site, said Jim Gillette, an analyst with the firm IHS Automotive who advises parts suppliers. As a result, plants have few parts in storage, and they are so dependent on every link in the chain that the system fails if production is interrupted at a single factory, Gillette said.

"You can't do without the parts, even if it's a small part," he said. "Everything is pretty much single-sourced these days. It could be tough for them to get this thing going again."

Magna officials were working Friday to see if the plastic injection molding equipment at the plant, about 45 miles northwest of Detroit, had been damaged, said Tracy Fuerst, a company spokeswoman. Only about 25 percent of the factory space was damaged in the fire, but it burned two large holes in the roof of the building.

Fuerst said the company is looking at several options, including trying to get machinery running in the same location, moving it to a nearby factory or figuring out whether other Magna plants could make the same parts. Magna, based near Toronto, is a major parts manufacturer supplying customers around the world.

A fire chief said it would be difficult to reopen the building quickly because it has electrical problems and the sprinkler system was wiped out by the fire. The fast-moving fire started in a booth where foam is sprayed into a mold to make parts, but firefighters don't know what caused it. They are calling it accidental.

Gillette estimated it would be a week before Magna could be making parts again. If the stoppage is that short, automakers can make up production with overtime or added shifts. But if molds to make parts were damaged in the fire, it could be far longer before production resumes, Gillette said.



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