By Brett Wallace, Chronicle-Tribune
bwallace@chronicle-tribune.com

General Motors said Friday it will temporarily close 20 factories across North America and make sweeping cuts to its vehicle production as it tries to adjust to dramatically weaker automobile demand.

In Indiana, GM spokeswoman Alicia Kocher said the company will close its Fort Wayne assembly plant for two weeks beginning March 2.

The fate of the Marion stamping plant, as well as GM facilities in Indianapolis and Bedford, is still being determined, she said.

Kocher said Marion plant officials are now working to assess how the shutdowns in Fort Wayne and at the other 19 facilities will affect their facility.

"Marion right now is assessing assembly plants that have announced when they will be down, in relation to the product it provides," she said. "An analysis will be done."

The company's not sure when that analysis at Marion will be complete, and Kocher said she doesn't know at this time if Marion will be forced to temporarily shut down or not. She doubts any local workers will be laid off before the end of the year.

GM said it will cut 250,000 vehicles from its production schedule for the first quarter of 2009, which includes a cut of 60,000 vehicles announced last week.

Chris Lee, a company spokesman in Detroit, said normal production would be around 750,000 cars and trucks for the quarter.

Both Kocher and Lee said this announcement is unrelated to Thursday's failure by Congress to provide a rescue package to the U.S. automakers.

"This was already in the works before (Thursday night's) vote," she said. "It's because of the auto market downturn. It shows no signs of recovery."

Because of a tight credit market, falling consumer confidence and rising unemployment, auto sales in the United States fell 36 percent in November, and GM's sales fell 41 percent.

"It's really due to the credit crisis," Kocher said of the company's decision. "It has definitely affected our market."

Cash-strapped GM is seeking government loans to stay in operation beyond the end of the year. The White House said Friday it may tap into its $700 billion Wall Street bailout fund to help GM and Chrysler stay in business after the Senate blocked a measure to provide $14 billion in immediate loans.

The measure failed in dramatic fashion late Thursday after Senate Republicans balked at passing the bill without more wage and benefit concession from the United Autoworkers.

Lee said GM's production cuts will be achieved by adding "down weeks" to the schedules at the affected plants. During down weeks, which can be staggered during a given period of time or can come several at once, the plant will not produce anything and employees will be temporarily laid off.

"We look at it on a plant-by-plant basis and make decisions regarding their production schedule in terms of market demand, so it's not a blanket ... we look at it plant by plant and make those decisions."

Honda Motor Co. also is lowering production by another 119,000 vehicles, bringing anticipated production for its fiscal year ending March 31 to 1.3 million cars and light trucks. The company already has cut production by 56,000 units this fiscal year.

The No. 2 Japanese automaker says that figure is still its fourth highest production in 27 years of vehicle building in North America. Honda builds cars and parts in eight plants in the U.S. - including one in Greensburg.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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