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GM Says SUV Sales Inching Up

By Shelley Kofler

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-758297.mp3

Arlington, TX – The President of General Motors North America says the company's Arlington plant has a pretty secure future. Comforting words for the 2,400 workers who soon will be the only GM employees building SUV's. KERA's Shelley Kofler has the latest on how Arlington is adapting.

No one would pretend it's been a banner year at the General Motors plant in Arlington, even though it received industry accolades for being the most efficient full-sized SUV manufacturer in North America.

But with rising gas prices and a soft economy, being a profitable SUV producer is another mission entirely. In spring, GM reported a 30 percent drop in annual sales for the big SUV's built in Arlington. On the assembly line in July, workers like Paul de la Cruz worried whether this Texas operation would survive.

De la Cruz: People need lighter vehicles and more affordable ones at the same time.

Fast forward two months to this week's visit by Troy Clarke, President of General Motors North America, and you hear optimism.

He was promoting Arlington's new Cadillac Escalade Hybrids.

Clarke: When you start out it will be driving in electric mode only up to 35 miles per hour.

Middle-income Americans struggling to pay for gas, might not be impressed that this Escalade gets 21 miles to the gallon, and appalled by a base sticker price of $70,000. But Clarke says there's still a market for this luxury vehicle and GM's the only place you can get it.

Clarke: This is definitely a vehicle for a higher income bracket of folks. They are hauling things or going to horse shows or hauling trailers or things like that

Clarke says SUV sales have actually inched up, and August was GM's best month for SUV's this year, in part because of discounts offered to buyers.

He says the hybrids are a growing part of GM's sales and future. So, too, are foreign markets. In the past few months, the number of SUV's shipped to other countries from Arlington has risen from 20 to 45 percent of production.

Still, Plant Manager Alicia Boler Davis remains a little jittery.

Davis: I know our economy is soft. That makes me nervous because consumers don't necessarily want to go out and spend money on an SUV.

It's a worry that nags even as her plant begins production of another giant on wheels. Monday, GMC's luxury SUV, the Yukon Denali, also will begin rolling off Arlington's assembly line.

Shelley Kofler, KERA News, Arlington.