General Motors is scaling back production of midsized pickup trucks as concerns that COVID-19 continue to cast a long shadow over the industry’s production plans.
GM confirmed that it is temporarily dropping the third shift, employing 1,250 workers, at its truck assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, just outside St. Louis.
The site produces the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon as well as the Chevy Express and GMC Savana full-size vans. No timeframe has been given for the length of the layoff. The company reportedly has been trying to deal with higher than normal employee absences, forcing the change in production.
“We believe, in the short term, a two-shift operating plan will allow us to operate as efficiently as possible and accommodate team members who are not reporting to work due to concerns about COVID-19 in the community,” GM spokesman David Barnas said in an e-mail to TheDetroitBureau.com.
”People on our team should not be concerned about coming to work. GM-Wentzville is following multi-layered safety protocols that are working very well to keep people safe by reducing the possibility that COVID-19 can enter the plant and preventing any spread within the plant,” Barnas said.
Barnas said the same in-plant protocols can help keep people safe when they are not at work. “We encourage everyone to follow them — especially social distancing and wearing masks when they’re in groups,” he said.
The protocols, which include handwashing, mandatory use of masks and social distancing whenever possible, were developed last spring with the United Auto Workers. Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. have similar protocols at their factories, which also have been hampered by a heat wave that settled over the Midwest this month.
“We are working on a staffing plan that will allow us to return to three production shifts as soon as possible.”
The number of virus infections have spiked in Missouri recently. The jump in COVID-19 cases has also spread across the southeastern United States, which followed a broad effort to re-open the economy promoted by the Trump administration.
The temporary layoffs and cutback in production at Wentzville come at an awkward time for GM. Pickup trucks sales have remained relatively stable during the pandemic, which battered the U.S. economy for the past few months.
“We’ve got jobs for three shifts at Wentzville because of strong customer and dealer demand for our midsize trucks, and hope to return to three shifts as soon as possible,” GM officials said.