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‘It’s just about crippling’

General Motors strike makes parts harder to find

News Photo by Julie Riddle Adam Carpenter, transmission technician at Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet in Alpena, works with transmission parts in the business’s service center. Obtaining vehicle parts has been a challenge for local dealerships during the General Motors strike.

ALPENA — A deer in the headlights on a dark October evening sometimes means a dented front hood.

In northern Michigan, it’s almost a rite of passage, and, in normal times, one easily repaired.

In the midst of a strike at one of the country’s largest automakers, however, even simple car repairs have become increasingly challenging, expensive, and time-consuming, a burden on everyone involved in the process.

“It’s just about crippling,” Rick LaCross, parts manager at Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet in Alpena, said of the effect of the United Auto Workers’ General Motors strike.

Parts used by the Anschuetz service department come from a large warehouse in Cincinnati, Ohio. As the strike continues, managers and other salaried employees are trying to replace an entire striking staff, doing all the lifting, loading, and sorting at the warehouse.

The lack of manpower slows the distribution process exponentially, LaCross explained.

Usually, a truck comes five days a week, carrying a large load of standard supplies as well as specially ordered parts to make repairs to customers’ vehicles. The shop is accustomed to overnight delivery on almost all parts.

Now, the truck comes maybe twice a week.

“And, when it does come, it hardly has anything,” LaCross said.

Truck shipments from the warehouse contain only the most essential parts. To provide repairs as quickly as possible, LaCross has had to pay overnight shipping to transport small, more easily acquired parts from the warehouse.

Larger pieces — a door panel or front bumper dented by an encounter with a deer, for example –can’t safely be shipped by a standard shipping company. Those pieces may require a wait until the Cincinnati warehouse can provide them.

Dealers around the state are relying on each other to solve some availability challenges, LaCross said. He recounted sending an employee last week to Chesaning and Saginaw to pick up a large parts purchased from other dealers, at an increased cost.

Even small, standard parts have been hard to find. LaCross gestured at an empty shelf where oil filters should have been stacked.

“It’s been a struggle,” LaCross said.

In the first days of the strike, the Anschuetz dealership tried to absorb extra costs generated by strike conditions, hoping deliveries would go back to normal quickly. Now entering the fifth week of the strike, the dealership has to inform customers that they will probably have to pay more for their repairs, partially covering the cost of finding and procuring more-expensive parts that used to be overnighted to the dealer’s doorstep.

Once the strike ends, the flow of repair parts is not expected to rise to normal levels quickly. Facing a backlog of orders from dealers countrywide, distribution centers will have to scramble to provide as much as possible to as many businesses as possible. Dealers in small towns, as well as anywhere else, will probably be affected for weeks, even months, after the strike ends, LaCross explained.

“In my 30-plus years here, I’ve never seen it this bad,” the parts manager said.

Dealerships, which are most likely to require genuine GM parts for more recently purchased vehicles, are feeling the greatest hit from the strike.

At Alpena Car Care, a small business specializing in exhaust repairs, co-owner Larry Thomas has mostly continued to have access to the parts he needs. Smaller, independent shops working on older models are able to primarily order after-market parts not made by the original manufacturer, so they don’t suffer from a dealership’s reliance on the genuine GM product.

Still, Thomas said, he’s keeping an eye on the strike, knowing that, if it continues, it may well trickle down and cause a slowdown in his business, as well.

The strike’s pinch is felt not only by dealerships and customers of Northeast Michigan, but also by service department employees.

“It hurts us,” said Adam Carpenter, transmission technician at Anschuetz.

He explained that some service department employees work on a flat rate, paid for a maximum repair time set by GM. Without parts, workers are not able to make repairs as quickly as they should, leading to time spent working without pay.

Some employees have only been paid for half of the hours they usually work at the Alpena dealership, Carpenter said, a tough cut to their expected income.

Carpenter pointed around the service bay, where cars on lifts sat idle while several repairmen viewed training materials at nearby computers, unable to continue work on the cars because they didn’t have the needed parts.

The dealership works with many vehicle owners who have purchased their vehicle recently and are still making payments, and yet, Carpenter said, there their vehicle sits, in the service bay for repairs covered by warranty, unable to be used because repair parts are unavailable.

“It hurts all of us,” Carpenter said. “Everybody’s caught in the middle.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.