General Motors to slash 14,700 jobs in North America

The US's largest carmaker says it will cut slow-selling models and shift more investment to electric vehicles.

    The announcement is the biggest restructuring in <span>North America</span> for the US's largest carmaker since its bankruptcy a decade ago [File: Mark Duncan/AP Photo]
    The announcement is the biggest restructuring in <span>North America</span> for the US's largest carmaker since its bankruptcy a decade ago [File: Mark Duncan/AP Photo]

    General Motors Co said on Monday it will cut production of slow-selling models and slash its North American workforce in the face of a stagnant market for traditional gas-powered sedans, shifting more investment to electric and autonomous vehicles.

    The announcement is the biggest restructuring in North America for the US's largest carmaker since its bankruptcy a decade ago. Its shares rallied 7.6 percent to $38.66.

    GM plans to halt production next year at three assembly plants - Lordstown, Ohio, Hamtramck, Michigan, and Oshawa, Ontario. The company also plans to stop building several models now assembled at those plants, including the Chevrolet Cruze, the Cadillac CT6 and the Buick LaCrosse. The Cruze compact car will be discontinued in the US market in 2019.

    Plants in Baltimore, Maryland, and Warren, Michigan, that assemble powertrain components will have no products assigned to them after 2019 and thus are at risk of closure, the company said. It will also close two factories outside North America, but did not identify them.

    "We are right-sizing capacity for the realities of the marketplace," Chief Executive Mary Barra said, adding that the cuts were prompted by car industry changes. Barra said the company will double resources dedicated to electric and self-driving vehicles over the next two years. 

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    The United Automobile Workers (UAW) union vowed to "confront this decision by GM through every legal, contractual and collective bargaining avenue open to our membership."

    "General Motors decision today to stop production at the Lordstown, Ohio, and Hamtramck, Michigan, assembly plants will idle thousands of workers, and will not go unchallenged by the UAW," Terry Dittes, UAW Vice President in charge of negotiations with GM, said.

    US President Donald Trump said his administration and politicians are exerting "a lot of pressure" on General Motors in response to its announcement. He said he told the company that the US has done a lot for GM and that if its cars aren't selling, the company needs to produce ones that will. 

    In a statement, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan described the news as "troubling" and said that the city's economic development team and the UAW union are "working together to come up with a solution that works for GM and the employees".

    The General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada [Carlos Osorio/Reuters] 

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spoke with Barra and expressed "deep disappointment".

    GM said it will take pre-tax charges of three billion dollars to $3.8bn to pay for the cutbacks, but expects the actions to improve annual free cash flow by six billion dollars by the end of 2020.

    Slashing jobs

    Its North American salaried workforce, including engineers and executives, will shrink by 15 percent, or about 8,000 jobs. The company said it will cut executive ranks by 25 percent to "streamline decision making". 

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    At the factories, 3,000 workers could lose jobs in Canada and another 3,600 in the US. Some US workers would transfer to truck and 4x4 plants where GM is increasing output, the company said.

    Barra said GM can reduce annual capital spending by $1.5bn and increase investment in electric and autonomous vehicles and connected vehicle technology because it has largely completed investing in new generations of trucks and sport utility vehicles. Some 75 percent of its global sales will come from just five vehicle architectures by the early 2020s.

    It plans to reduce annual capital spending to seven billion dollars by 2020 from an average of $8.5bn a year during the 2017-2019 period.

    Cost pressures on GM and other carmakers and suppliers have increased as demand waned for traditional sedans. The company has said tariffs on imported steel, imposed earlier this year by the Trump administration, have cost it one billion dollars.

    Barra did not link Monday's cuts to tariff pressures, but said trade costs are among the "headwinds" GM has to face as it deals with broader technology change and market shifts.

    With US car sales lagging, several car plants have fallen to just one shift, including its Hamtramck and Lordstown, assembly plant.

    A rule of thumb for the automotive industry is that if a plant is running below 80 percent of production capacity, it is losing money. GM has several plants running well below that. Consultancy LMC estimates that Lordstown will operate at just 31 percent of production capacity in 2018.

    Barra said the automaker is running at about 70 percent capacity utilisation in North America, and the company will provide an update on how the latest moves will improve utilisation in January.

    "We need to make sure that we are well positioned to compete, not just over the next few years, but well beyond," she said.

    At the factories, 3,000 workers could lose jobs in Canada and another 3,600 in the US [File: Carlos Osorio/AP Photo]

    Unlike its plants making passenger cars, many of GM's plants producing its higher-margin trucks and 4x4s are running on three shifts, with some running six, and sometimes seven, days a week to keep up with demand.

    Rivals Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV have both curtailed US car production. Ford said in April it planned to stop building nearly all cars in North America.

    Sedans out of favour

    The industry-wide slowdown in passenger car sales started to pick up steam in 2017.

    The shift of US consumer preferences have been away from passenger cars to larger, more comfortable 4x4s and pick-up trucks has been swift and severe, leaving automakers scrambling to readjust.

    As recently as 2012, passenger cars made up more than 50 percent of all US new vehicle sales. Through the first nine months of 2018, that had fallen to a little over 31 percent.

    While industry-wide passenger car sales were down 13.2 percent through the first nine months of the year, pick-up truck and 4x4 sales rose 8.3 percent. As well as being roomier, the fuel economy on 4x4s and crossovers has improved significantly.

    Sales of Cruze, built at Lordstown, fell 27 percent through September 2018. Impala, which is built at Oshawa and Hamtramck, was down 13 percent. Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac CT6, which are built at Hamtramck, were down 14 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

    SOURCE: News agencies