By Boris Ladwig, The Republic

bladwig@therepublic.com

  Cummins Inc. will extend its typical Christmas shutdown by two days as it adjusts to the continuing automotive slump.

    Cummins told its employees this week that the break, initially scheduled from Christmas Eve to Jan. 5, also will include Dec. 22 and 23. 

    The extension will affect all Indiana employees - although Mark Land, director of public relations, said there was a small chance the midrange engine plant near Walesboro would escape the extension, as it still was awaiting orders from Chrysler for December. 

    The plant is the exclusive supplier of diesel engines for Dodge Ram. 

    The shutdown extension means shop floor employees will receive no pay unless they have vacation days. Office workers will be paid, but those who have no vacation will be asked to coordinate with their supervisor to work from home. 

    In the summer, Cummins temporarily laid off more than 200 CMEP employees and moved about 80 to other southern Indiana plants as consumers, stunned by high gas prices, shunned big trucks with big engines.

Production steady 

    Those employees were brought back in August, as the plant began producing the new engine for the 2009 model year, and production has held fairly steady at 350 per day in two shifts, Land said. The plant employs about 800. 

    In the third quarter, shipments of Dodge Ram engines fell 75 percent from the same period a year earlier. 

    The company has not publicly discussed expected production levels for next year, and likely won't until it announces fourth-quarter earnings early next year, Land said. 

    Other Columbus plants, such as Fuel Systems, have seen milder effects of the automotive slump, Land said. 

    The company has eliminated temporary employees and cut travel expenses and discretionary spending, he said. 

    The good news, Land said, is that Chrysler still is ordering new engines, still is paying for the ones it has ordered and still is planning to continue the collaboration through next year and beyond.

Plant 1

   Despite the economic downturn, preparation to launch a new light-duty diesel engine at Plant 1 is continuing on schedule, Land said. Chrysler will use the LDD engine as an option for the Dodge Ram 1500 series.

   "They've not canceled their project with us," Land said. He said Cummins still is working to get the plant running at the end of the decade. The plant is expected to employ between 600 and 800. "We have not changed anything yet as far as (employment) goes," Land said. 

    "We're still working ahead. We're hoping for the best."

Nissan 

    Cummins and Nissan also said they still are forging ahead with their commercial truck deal. 

    Cummins is set to produce two engines to enable Nissan to enter the North American light commercial vehicle market by 2010. 

    The companies have released few details about the engines and the trucks. 

    "We're definitely sticking to our time frame," said Darryll Harrison, manager for Nissan product public relations. "We haven't made any adjustments or changes," he said. 

    Nissan and Chrysler announced this year that they had reached an agreement to help them through the downturn: Nissan will make a Chrysler vehicle based on the Versa sedan for South America, and Chrysler will make a full-size pickup truck designed by Nissan at the Saltillo, Mexico, plant. 

    That plant also produces Dodge Rams with Cummins engines. 

    But Harrison said Nissan has not publicly discussed which powertrain the Nissan/ Chrysler pickups will use. The pickup will go on sale in 2011.

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