Winter weather forces temporary idling of U.S. auto plants

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Widespread and severe winter weather in the U.S. has caused several automakers to press pause on production this week.

General Motors said it hasn’t had to suspend production because of natural gas shortages — an issue because freezing temperatures have sent electricity demand soaring. But the company did cancel production on Tuesday first shifts at a number of its assembly plants.

Locations impacted include GM plants in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Spring Hill, Tenn.; Bowling Green, Ky.; and Arlington, Texas.

The automaker also idled Monday production shifts at the plants in Tennessee, Texas and Kentucky amid the blast of subzero temperatures, snow and ice sweeping the country. It also halted Monday production at Wentzville Assembly in Missouri.

“We will continue to monitor the weather situation and make adjustments as needed,” Dan Flores, a GM spokesman, wrote in an email.

Several Ford Motor Co. operations are down as a result of weather-related concerns, said Kelli Felker, a Ford spokeswoman. The list includes the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan, the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake and the Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant in Mexico.

Ford shut down operations at its Kansas City Assembly Plant in Missouri on Saturday. The closure will continue until Feb. 22, the company said. Ford said it closed the plant to conserve natural gas for residential homes in the region as people buckled down for the hazardous weather and the potential for natural gas shortages spiked.

That’s the plant that builds Ford’s popular F-150 pickup. The company is already dealing with reduced production of its 2021 model because of a global shortage of semiconductor chips.

Ford plans to run Tuesday second shifts at its Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Chicago Assembly Plant, Dearborn Truck Plant in Michigan and at the Oakville Assembly Complex in Ontario, Canada.

First shifts at Toyota Motor Corp. manufacturing plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas and West Virginia were not running on Tuesday, according to Toyota spokeswoman Kelly Stefanich. First shifts at the company’s Alabama plant were on a four-hour delayed start.

“We’ll be assessing the situation throughout the day to make decisions about second-shift production,” Stefanich wrote in an email to Automotive News.

Nissan had halted production at its three factories since Sunday night. Production is expected to resume Tuesday night, a Nissan spokeswoman said, adding that the situation is being monitored.

Nissan builds sedans, pickups, crossovers and commercial vans at assembly plants in Smyrna, Tenn., and Canton, Miss. Nissan also builds engines in Decherd, Tenn.

Subaru canceled first-shift production at its plant in Lafayette, Ind. — Subaru of Indiana Automotive. That’s where the Impreza compact sedan and hatchback, Legacy midsize sedan, Outback midsize crossover and Ascent large crossover are manufactured.

“In regard to today, first-shift production was canceled as a result of the severe winter weather conditions,” a Subaru spokesman told Automotive News. “Decisions regarding second-shift production and third shift (maintenance) are expected by 1 p.m. ET.”

The disruption at Nissan comes as Nissan is at the tail end of a major product reboot that will update 70 percent of the brand’s product portfolio. Nissan is gearing up to begin production of several key models — including the Frontier pickup and Pathfinder and the Infiniti QX60. In January, the global microchip shortage forced Nissan to temporarily cut pickup output at its Canton, Miss., assembly plant.

Frontier and Titan pickup output was idled for two days in late January, according to a factory memo obtained by Automotive News. The pickup line also was down Feb. 8, the memo indicates.

Meanwhile, Tesla on Tuesday tweeted a picture of a snow-covered Gigafactory Texas, its manufacturing facility that has been under construction in Austin since July. Tesla CEO Elon Musk replied to the tweet and said the facility was “covered in snow and ice” and roads around it are mostly closed.

Urvaksh Karkaria, Jack Walsworth and Jennifer Vuong contributed to this report.