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GM says Axle strike probably has cut fleet sales

/ Source: The Associated Press

A nearly two-month strike at parts maker American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. probably has cut into General Motors Corp.'s first-quarter fleet sales, a GM sales executive said Wednesday.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of global markets and industry analysis, said the strike may have cost the automaker sales of 7,000 to 10,000 vehicles to fleet buyers. He said GM hopes to make up the sales once the 58-day strike is resolved.

DiGiovanni said the walkout has reduced GM's inventory in a weak U.S. market.

American Axle makes parts mainly for GM's pickup trucks and large sport utility vehicles, which aren't selling well due to high gasoline prices.

About 3,600 members of the United Auto Workers have been on strike against Detroit-based American Axle since Feb. 26.

Although talks continued Wednesday, the union recently has accused American Axle of failing to bargain, while the company says the UAW has rejected competitive pay offers.

"Things are moving along, just not greatly," company spokeswoman Renee Rogers said Wednesday. She expected negotiations to continue Thursday.

GM has labor problems of its own with a strike under way since Thursday at a plant near Lansing that makes the Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia, three key crossover vehicles that are selling well.

DiGiovanni said the strike at the Delta Township factory hasn't hurt GM's sales yet.

"This is not something that we're treating lightly. We're concerned about it, yes, but it hasn't really affected us yet," he said.

The Delta Township strike is over local contract issues, but industry analysts have speculated it's part of a UAW strategy to make GM pressure American Axle into ending its long contract dispute. The union has denied the walkout has anything to with American Axle. GM accounts for 80 percent of American Axle's parts business.

UAW locals at four other GM plants have threatened to go on strike over similar local contract issues. The union has given GM strike warning letters at factories in Mansfield, Ohio; Warren; Grand Rapids; and Kansas City, Kan.

The Kansas City plant makes GM's hottest product at the moment, the Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan.

Local plants negotiate their own operating agreements separate from the national contract, which was settled last year. The local contract deals with issues such as overtime and work rules.

GM spokesman Dan Flores said negotiations are under way at all five locations.

GM shares rose 43 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $20.94 Wednesday. American Axle shares fell 6 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $21.55.