The announcement this week by General Motors that it would lay off about 14,000 workers as it plans to shutter up to five plants in the Midwest sent shocks through the market and the political world.
The reductions could amount to as much as 8 percent of GM’s global workforce of 180,000 employees.
The restructuring reflects changing North American auto markets as manufacturers continue to shift away from cars toward SUVs and trucks. In October, almost 65 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were trucks or SUVs.
That figure was about 50 percent cars just five years ago.
Hours after the announcement, President Donald Trump said his administration and lawmakers were exerting “a lot of pressure” on GM.
He said he told the company that the U.S. has done a lot for GM and that if its cars aren’t selling, the company needs to produce ones that will.
Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said GM’s downsizing won’t have an immediate demonstrable impact on local manufacturers.
Since closing its assembly plant in Doraville in 2008, GM’s once local suppliers have turned to other automakers building in the region, Evans said, including BMW, Kia, Hyundai and Honda.
The market share for local manufacturers doing business with these companies may have expanded since GM left Georgia, Evans added.
“The auto industry is cyclical,” with outside forces at play beyond consumer choices, such as fuel prices.
Jim Hardman, owner of a Buick and GMC dealership in Gainesville, said GM’s drawdown from the sedan market is “a continued transition that we’ve seen over decades in the automobile and truck market.”
For example, Hardman said, during his youth, the station wagon was popular.
“Of course, those went away,” he said.
Then came the minivan, several of which GM once produced to high demand.
“And then they went out of style,” Hardman said.
GM is scrapping production of six cars altogether (Chevrolet Volt, Cadillac CT6, Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Cruze and Buick LaCrosse), leaving the company with nine remaining car models.
Evans said this is a trend throughout the industry driven also by the development of hybrid, electric and automated automobiles.
But even the fate of the Chevrolet Volt could not be delayed.
Introduced a decade ago, the Volt can travel up to 238 miles on a single charge before switching to gasoline. Now, GM says it will end all production on the model.
GM builds full-size Chevrolet and GMC pickups in Mexico, and it recently announced that a new Chevrolet Blazer SUV will be built there. Also, GM imports the Buick Envision midsize SUV from China.
Hardman said he sells only one of the discontinued models, the Buick LaCrosse, a luxury car, which he described as the finest of sedans he’s ever sold.
“But even with all it offers, it’s not a good seller,” Hardman said.
Now, everyone, even soccer moms, “want a crossover or a sport utility,” he added. “They make so much more sense.”