The semiconductor chip shortage has forced General Motors to halt production of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra during the weeks of April 4 and April 11. GM makes these high-margin models at a plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Dealers sold 530,000 Chevy Silverados and 249,000 GMC Sierras in 2021. Silverado sales were down 11% in 2021 compared to the year before, and Sierra sales slipped 1.6%.
Premature Optimism Meets 2022
GM President Mark Reuss told CNBC that chip supplies were “getting a little better” but the crisis is not over. “We’re not through this, we’re doing the best we can.” The latest CarEdge chip shortage update shows that 308,700 vehicles have been removed from North American production schedules across all manufacturers, and the pace of cancellations remains steady. In 2021, General Motors canceled nearly one million vehicles from production because of the chip shortage.
In February, GM CEO Mary Barra voiced optimism, with perhaps a hint of wishful thinking. “We’ve said the improvements in the first quarter will pull through the year. Definitely, by the second half of this year we’ll be able to get closer to full capability.” The semiconductor chip shortage shows no signs of slowing down. Asian production hubs have been rattled by more COVID shutdowns, and even earthquakes. On top of the chip shortages, the war in Ukraine is affecting European operations.
Trucks Are GM’s Big Money-Makers
GM’s announcement of a production stop in Fort Wayne is particularly notable considering that the Sierra and Silverado are higher margin vehicles for the automaker. If these two money-making models are temporarily removed from production, the chip shortage may be worse than company executives make it seem.
There may be a chip shortage, but GM’s bank accounts are as healthy as ever. In 2021, GM’s profits surged 55% to $10 billion, an all-time high for the legacy automaker. GM’s record profits coincided with a sharp decline in sales as inventory plummeted and new car prices skyrocketed. The company sold 2.9 million vehicles in 2021, down from 3.4 million in 2020. Sales slumped so much that Toyota took the crown for most U.S. sales for the first time ever.
Lockdowns in Shanghai Have GM’s Workforce Sleeping On Floors
China has resisted calls to recognize the COVID-19 virus as an endemic illness, and China continues its zero-COVID policy at all costs. China’s ‘closed loop’ economic approach permits businesses to remain in operation, but only if all workers remain onsite. The same ‘closed loop’ policy was in place for the entirety of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
GM’s partnership with Chinese state-owned automaker SAIC has been fruitful for bringing the Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac brands to China. Over 10,000 people are employed by the SAIC-GM joint venture in China. During the latest COVID lockdown in Shanghai, Automotive News reports that the SAIC-GM production plant has remained open with workers sleeping on floors inside of the facility. GM has declined to comment on the situation.
Continuing operations at the Shanghai facility may give General Motors an upper hand in the struggle to produce higher volumes of vehicles given the current supply shortages. Tesla’s Giga Shanghai factory was forced to close this week. Tesla failed to prepare enough food and other accommodations for the 2,000 employees. Volkswagen has also been impacted by the Shanghai lockdowns, but VW’s factories remain open for now.
Where does General Motors go from here? The now #2 automaker in America managed to score record profits in 2021, despite the severity of the chip shortage. As MSRPs rise and automaker incentives disappear, it’s entirely plausible that GM will see positive outcomes yet again, even with empty dealer lots.