By Paul Lienert
DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors is at greater risk than rivals Ford Motor and Stellantis of disruption to electric vehicle production from a prolonged UAW strike - though some analysts say that could also buy it time to repair nagging issues.
While Ford and Stellantis are introducing several revamped combustion-engine models this fall, GM's immediate focus is on electric vehicles - with plans to launch or ramp up production of at least five new ones. They include all-electric companions to its full-size Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, according to researcher GlobalData.
GM has been struggling much of the year to smooth out hiccups in battery manufacturing as well as its EV supply chain and logistics, including delivery to dealers of its Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer EVs.
The company delivered just 1,348 Lyriqs and 47 Hummers in the second quarter, far below expectations, in part because of issues with battery module assembly.
Chief Executive Mary Barra in July told analysts: "Our automation equipment supplier is struggling with delivery issues," causing a bottleneck that had forced the automaker to assemble battery modules by hand.
In July, GM executive Rory Harvey said the company was working out delivery issues to dealers, noting that Lyriq and Hummer "have been going down the line in very limited quantities (but) we are building momentum."
A longer strike could help GM address and potentially resolve some of those ongoing issues in its EV and battery operations, according to Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions.
"A production stoppage could allow GM to solve bottlenecks,” Fiorani said.
The automaker has not been able to roll out its most important EVs in a timely fashion, but could benefit if it used the labor stoppage to resolve some of its technical and operational issues, he said.
"GM could ramp up output faster once the factories start running again," said Fiorani.
Other analysts say the stoppage is unlikely to work out in GM's favor. GM's Barra herself said the strike "would not be positive" for the company and that it needed to reach a deal with workers quickly.
"For GM, a possible byproduct of an extended strike may be more time to work out any kinks they are having with their EV launches, but the potential loss of billions of dollars in the process would make it hard to justify such a 'silver lining,'" said Bill Rinna, GlobalData’s director of Americas vehicle forecasts.
Wedbush auto analyst Daniel Ives said the strike was "a potential nightmare situation" for GM given it comes exactly at a key period of ironing out EV issues.
"In this crucial period of EV execution, model roll-outs, distribution, marketing, with EV competition rising across the board, the timing could not be worse," Ives said in a research note.
In addition, the UAW strike in the United States could affect the flow of critical auto parts to GM operations in Canada and Mexico, which would hamper EV production there, Rinna said.
GM’s Ramos Arizpe plant in Mexico has begun building the Chevrolet Blazer EV and is adding production of the Chevrolet Equinox EV, while its Ingersoll plant in Canada is planning to produce the BrightDrop Zevo 400 electric delivery van, according to GlobalData.
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit, editing by Deepa Babington)