By Mike Colias, Automotive News
Detroit, Illinois -- Grim forecasts that a leaner supply chain could hamper the auto recovery are coming true: Parts shortages are shutting down auto assembly plants around the world, derailing automakers' attempts to meet rebounding demand.
"It's beyond a trend; it's an epidemic," said Dan Sharkey, a suburban Detroit lawyer who works with many auto suppliers.
This week Chrysler Group expects to idle its Windsor, Ontario, minivan plant for at least a week because parts are scarce.
And Ford Motor Co. expects to reopen a suburban Detroit plant that builds the F-series pickup after a shortage of parts for V-6 engines forced a weeklong shutdown.
On Friday, Ford also closed its Kentucky Truck plant because of a parts shortage. That factory builds the F-series Super Duty pickups, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. As of late Friday the shutdown had not been scheduled to extend into this week, a spokesman said.
In Europe this week, Volkswagen AG will halt production at its main assembly plants in Wolfsburg, Germany, because of a shortage of engine parts.
Ford also took an additional week of downtime at its Chicago assembly plant -- which builds the in-demand redesigned Explorer -- before and after the traditional Christmas shutdown. Ford spokesman Todd Nissen said parts shortages there have ended.
The parts shortages already have had an impact on dealers. Jack Kain, who owns Jack Kain Ford near Lexington, Kentucky, says he has delivered only five Explorers, "but we could have sold 15 to 20 if we had the availability."
Many suppliers who cut capacity to the bone during the downturn either can't ramp up quickly enough or are gun-shy about adding equipment and workers amid the fragile recovery, industry observers say.
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