Bitter cold and natural gas shortages shutter auto plants

Thursday, January 31, 2019

DETROIT (AP) — Auto plants and other big energy users throughout Southeast Michigan are shutting down or limiting operations due to a natural gas shortage caused by a fire and frigid weather.

Eighteen factories and other facilities run by General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler were affected Thursday. It's not clear when they'll resume normal operations.

The fire hit a Consumers Energy natural gas compressor station north of Detroit on Wednesday as recordcold temperatures swept over the region.

The utility says gas flow from the station was shut off, putting Michigan residents at risk of brief service interruptions in subzero temperatures.

Fiat Chrysler closed its truck assembly plants in Warren and Sterling Heights, Michigan, while Ford reduced operations at two transmission factories and a plant that stamps parts for the hot-selling Ford Ranger small pickup near Detroit. Ranger production was unaffected for now.

General Motors suspended operations at factories in Flint, Lansing, Saginaw, Pontiac, Orion Township and Bay City, Michigan.

The Flint plant is gearing up for the launch of new heavy-duty pickup trucks. Even General Motors' sprawling technical center in Warren, Michigan, north of Detroit, was closed and its roughly 20,000 employees were told to stay home. About 30,000 employees were affected at GM alone.

Only factories served by Jackson, Michigan-based Consumers Energy were affected.

Plants powered by the region's other utility, DTE Energy, had no disruptions.

Automakers were hoping that the plants can return to normal operations as temperatures moderate on Saturday and into next week, but they weren't sure when that will happen.

"We're taking this shift-by-shift, location-by-location, and staying in close contact with Consumers Energy," GM spokesman Dan Flores said.

Automakers usually can make up for lost production days by increasing assembly line speeds, but if the plants are closed or limited for a long time, that gets harder.