Archive for Thursday, June 18, 1998


June 18, 1998


Dale Willey's dream could finally come true.

``I've always said my goal is to sell so many cars that I have to call a cab to get home,'' said Willey, owner of Dale Willey Automotive in Lawrence.

As a labor dispute dries up more General Motors Corp. vehicle supplies, it could finally happen. Despite the lengthening strike, Lawrence GM dealers say it's business as usual for now.

``My philosophy is there's nothing I can do about that, so I try not to think about it,'' said Miles Schnaer of Crown Chevrolet-Oldsmobile. ``When we're looking at blacktop out there, I guess I'll go find something else to do.''

So Willey and Schnaer are selling cars and keeping an eye on strike developments. As the dispute escalates, it's starting to look as if the strike could stretch out for a while.

One dealer concern is how much GM will be able to make up for lost output of its full-size pickup truck and sport utility vehicles once it settles two strikes that have halted much of its production. The profitable vehicles are key to GM's goal of stealing the truck market from Ford Motor Co. for the first time since 1994.

Another question is how a protracted strike would affect GM's Oldsmobile Division, which has been making a comeback on the basis of a couple of strong-selling models.

``This new Intrigue has been a good car for us,'' Schnaer said. He's been looking forward to selling Oldsmobile's new Alero, too, but it's uncertain when those will begin arriving.

Without inventory, it's tough to sell.

Inventory, or the number of cars and trucks on the sales floor, already was reduced for many of the nation's GM dealers by sales incentives offered this year. From a bloated 102-day supply on Jan. 31, GM's loyalty programs and other deals cut the supply to 58 days on May 31. That's a typical stockpile.

Willey, who sells Buick, Cadillac and GMC, said he began increasing his dealership's inventory before the strike and has a 90-day supply of new cars. Schnaer's dealership had about half that, with enough cars to last 45 days.

Cars that were in the pipeline before the strike began are still arriving in Lawrence, but with more than half of the nation's GM assembly plants now idled, supply could begin drying up soon. Some vehicles already are in short supply.

``If we're short of anything,'' said Willey, ``it's the Grand Prix by Pontiac. That's built at Fairfax.''

GM's Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., was one of the first plants shut down as effects of the United Auto Workers June 5 strike of a parts-making plant in Flint, Mich., rippled across the nation. Fairfax also builds the Oldsmobile Intrigue.

The strike now has resulted in the layoffs of more than 3,500 people at Fairfax and elsewhere in Kansas. GM said that 19 of its 29 North American assembly plants have been affected, idling 79,200 workers.

Some estimates put the automaker's lost output at 13,000 units a day -- including nearly all of its profitable light truck production.

``My Chevrolet business is what's booming,'' Schnaer said. ``And the truck business is phenomenal right now.''

That could be difficult business to make up.

But while cars are still available, Schnaer said the strike had placed a new urgency on shoppers to buy while cars are available.

As for Willey, he just plans to keep trying to clear his lot.

``We're doing business as if there was no strike,'' he said. ``I'm that silly optimist, I guess.''

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is

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