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Unifor strike drying up Chevrolet Equinox inventories

U.S. inventory of the Chevrolet Equinox fell to a 41-day supply as of the beginning of October, vs. a 66-day supply in June. Photo credit: DAVID PHILLIPS

UPDATED: 10/5/17 11:22 am ET — corrected

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the direction of Equinox sales in Canada this year and the number of sales. Chevrolet sold 19,035 through September, up 39 percent.

A strike by workers at a General Motors factory in Canada could begin to impact consumer choice and dealer stocks of the Chevrolet Equinox — one of the top-10 selling vehicles in the U.S.

Production of the compact crossover at CAMI Assembly in Ingersoll, Ontario, has been idled since Sept. 17, when workers walked off the job after bargainers for Canadian union Unifor and General Motors hit a roadblock in contract talks over job security.

Stockpiles of the Equinox, GM’s second best-selling nameplate, are quickly drying up, despite the automaker’s attempts to ramp up Equinox production at two plants in Mexico to supplement Canadian output.

U.S. inventory of the Equinox dropped to 43,453 vehicles, or a 41-day supply, at the beginning of October, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Inventory stood at an all-time high of 74,400 units, or a 66-day supply, in June.

“That’s going to be hard on Equinox to compete on such a limited quantity in such a hot segment,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst and director of pricing and industry analysis for Edmunds.com. “We would expect sales to pick up in the last quarter of the year.”

In 2016, U.S. sales during the last three months of the year accounted for 28 percent of domestic Equinox volume during the year. Monthly inventory of the vehicle averaged 42,550 units in 2016, with a low of 33,700 in July — the lowest level since 30,900 vehicles in August 2012.

GM has downplayed the significant drop in Equinox inventory levels since the strike began two and a half weeks ago.

“We believe we have sufficient inventory and production to meet demand while negotiations continue and we continue to work closely with dealers to ensure customers continue to be well served,” GM said in a statement to Automotive News.

U.S. sales of the Equinox surged 80 percent last month to 27,512 and deliveries total 212,735 through September, up 22 percent; sales in Canada are up 27 percent during the same period. For the nine months of 2017, Canadian sales are up 39 percent.

A handful of U.S. Chevrolet dealers last week told Automotive News that their Equinox inventories hadn’t been directly impacted by the strike, however it was only a matter of time until they would be if the walkout continued.

“We’re always worried, especially on a new hot model,” said Rick Cantalini, owner of Vandergriff Chevrolet in Arlington, Texas, and a member of the Chevrolet National Dealer Council. “The vehicle is selling very well. We really wanted to build inventory, not deplete it.”

GM and Unifor remain far apart in settling the strike. Union leaders fear GM could shift Canadian Equinox output and jobs to Mexico, as the automaker did this year when it sent GMC Terrain crossover production from CAMI to a Mexican plant. They want CAMI to be named as the lead North American producer for the popular crossover.

GM is producing the Equinox at its San Luis Potosi and Ramos Arizpe plants in Mexico. However, production is not at the volume of CAMI.

The company has declined to release production capacity or any change in plans for those factories as a result of the strike in Canada.

“We don’t know the ramp-up at the other production facilities in Mexico,” Caldwell said. “That’s the X factor.”

The Mexican plants combined to build 40,017 Equinox models through August since production began in April. CAMI had produced an estimated 132,388 Equinoxes through August, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

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