Thousands of WNY jobs linked to auto industry dodge effects of coronavirus


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–As the coronavirus outbreak takes its toll on the U.S. economy, most notably sending the stock market on a frightening roller coaster ride, Western New York’s automobile industry—with thousands of jobs linked to it–has so far dodged any ill effects.

In other parts of the nation and the world the auto industry seems to be in limbo. Arthur Wheaton, Director of the Worker Institute at Cornell, points out thousands of auto workers around the world are idled due to coronavirus.

“It already has affected the auto industry globally.”

China has quarantined millions of its citizens and closed many of its factories. Wheaton said car sales in the Asian country were off by 80 percent last month.

“So an 80 percent drop is a huge drop in monthly sales for autos, especially since China is the largest auto market in the world.”

China automotive plants also make spare parts for cars made in the U.S., and Wheaton points out so do factories in In Italy.

“You just had Italy completely shut down the country. So Fiat Chrysler, a lot of Italy-made parts, or Italy-made vehicles,” are not being shipped to American factories and repair shops.

Late last year, Ford told some of its workers at the Stamping Plant in Woodlawn to prepare for layoffs, but that was due to the discontinuation of the Flex crossover utility vehicle, which is assembled in Oakville, Ontario.

Wheaton said General Motors actually sells more of its vehicles in China than in the U.S. so when sales dropped, the slowdown seemed to affect everybody.

“So it has hit GM, it is hitting Ford, it is hitting Toyota, it is hitting everybody globally for the sales of vehicles, but it has also hit manufacturing.”

One bright spot for the American auto industry that has nothing to do with coronavirus or the COVID-19 outbreak, the gas war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that has sent prices at the pump plummeting.

Wheaton said lower gas prices boost car sales, “If the price of gas drops and people are more willing to drive further, and they are willing to buy bigger vehicles which tends to make bigger profits.”

A local General Motors spokesperson confirmed the coronavirus has had no impact on production in the U.S. due to parts shortages, including at Powertrain in the Town of Tonawanda.

But the introduction of the new Lyriq–Cadillac’s all-electric SUV–has been postponed indefinitely, “out of an abundance of caution,” the spokesperson confirmed.

New vehicle rollouts are designed to attract crowds, and GM officials felt staging events meant to draw crowds would be counterproductive in today’s environment.

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