FLINT — It almost looks like General Motors has moved back to its old stomping ground, judging by the number of new trucks parked in the back lot of the Great Lakes Tech Center on South Saginaw Street at Atherton.
The former GM Great Lakes Tech Center and home of GM’s defunct Fisher Body plant, sits on a 40-acre site that includes buildings that once were part of the historic sit-down strike and produced automotive parts for some 60 years.
Now as far as the eye can see, rows and rows of brand new vehicles are parked in a fenced off area near the corner of Atherton Road and Grand Traverse under armed guard with yellow caution tape circling around.
The trucks are parked there in the aftermath of a harsh winter that has led to a shortage of available rail cars in the Midwest. As a result, GM’s Flint Assembly plant on Van Slyke and Bristol has run out of on-site storage for new trucks waiting to be shipped out and is using the tech center as an overflow lot. A drive around the plant shows thousands more new vehicles stored in the parking lot there too.
GM officials declined to disclose details about how many trucks are parked on-site or off-site.
In response to a media query, GM issued the following corporate statement:
“This winter’s severe weather has severely strained the North American rail network. As a result, many industries including the auto sector, are coping with slowing throughput which is resulting in rising inventories of products at plant and rail yards across the U.S. and Canada.
GM, like other automakers, are taking steps to ensure that our dealers and more importantly our customers are not affected by this situation. As weather improves, we anticipate that the railroads will be able to work through the backlog of vehicles awaiting shipment.”
Production on new trucks started at Flint Assembly in late January so the backlog probably began some time after that, according to Tom Wickham, local GM spokesperson.
“We are shipping trucks by rail and truck. However, we do not disclose specifics about our logistics, including the number of vehicles we ship each day and how many via rail and truck,” he said
GM also would not discuss storage costs or daily production rates adding to the increasing inventory storage problem..
Rail car shortages are common each spring, but this year’s shortage is due to a much harsher winter, according to a March 10 industry report from PHH Arval, a global fleet management service. Reportedly, fewer rail cars were moved because of the weather so shortages started earlier this year. As of early March, therewassarailcarshortageof2,500cars compared to 1,000 at this time last year., the report said.
PHH Arval’s report also provided a snapshot of how the rail car shortage is impacting all automotive manufacturers.
Ford Motor Company reported fewer gate-released vehicles were being shipped this year than during the same time period last year. All plants are affected but more so at Dearborn, Oakville, Flat Rock and Michigan Assembly. Overall vehicles are being stored off-site and shipping improvement expected in early April, the report said.
At Chrysler, the shortage reportedly is impacting shipments from Mexico.
Toyota Logistics Services said rail companies were diverting more rail cars to the Midwest to each the crunch but not enough to handle the backlog of inventory. Contingency plans were in effect and it was estimated to take about a month before the rail network returned to normal.
GM’s Logistics team monitors rail car supply daily and also implemented alternative solutions to move product, such as shuttling units and consolidation centers, the report said.
CN and CSX railroad officials did not respond to a request for more information about the cause of the rail car shortage and how soon it will be resolved. Some media reports indicate that it could be early summer before rail shipments return to normal.
The rail car shortage is reportedly affecting other industries too, particularly in agriculture such as grain elevators and farmers who rely heavily on the railroad to move product.