December 24, 2008

A Funereal Day for SUVs

An icon of the road, the sports utility vehicle, is on wobbly legs as U.S. consumers shift to smaller cars has forced plants to close.

I was a fork lift driver, until about 7 minutes ago, said a teary-eyed Dan Doubleday who worked at a General Motors Corp. SUV plant in Janesville, Wis., The New York Times reported Wednesday.

As the plant's employees gathered for a closing ceremony, the industry is adapting to a sea change in consumer thinking. As gas prices soared this summer and the economy soured this fall, automakers have been desperate to cut costs.

New vehicle sales are off 16 percent from January through November but SUV sales have crashed, down 40 percent in the same period, the Times said.

Recent closings leave GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC with one SUV plant each, the Times said.

In past decades, the large vehicles ruled the road and provided sizable profits for automakers. Small cars, in general, are less profitable for producers.

For a while we had it made, said Lisa Gonzalez as she exchanged Christmas presents with co-worker Michael Berberich -- a ritual established in 1986 when they were first hired, the Times said.