BILLINGS — Car shopping can be a stressful endeavor and with an historic auto strike now underway, the car buying landscape faces an uncertain future.
"This is literally just the first shoe to drop, and it’ll be interesting to see how they advance it. With that said, both sides have to go back to the bargaining table and right now the union has stepped away and we see when they come back what they have to say," said former Rimrock Subaru General Manager Ernie Lee on Friday.
Lee knows firsthand the toll both the COVID-19 pandemic and a computer chip shortage had on the auto industry, when car lots around the country struggled to find inventory.
"The manufacturers have gone through, obviously, the last three years with major supply shortages that began with Covid. They are slowly getting back to a situation in which they are able to go back into normal productions," added Lee.
Now with workers striking against the big three domestic auto manufacturers, Ford, GM and Stellantis (the parent company of Dodge and Chrysler) at once, production will be slowed again. Plants in Wentzville, Missouri, Wayne, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio are currently affected.
Lee said vehicles that have production halted are the Chevy Colorado and Canyon, Ford Bronco, as well as Jeep.
That means emptier lots and higher prices.
"You take that normal production schedule, and you start interrupting it and you add in as well the cost of labor being increased. All of that ultimately will trickle down to higher prices to consumers," said Lee.
And it's not just new cars that could be impacted.
"If you were a business owner and you needed to go out and buy yourself a truck, and new trucks were no longer on the lot, you’re going to go to the pre-owned lot, find a vehicle as similar to that as possible and buy that," added Lee.
At the end of August, the three companies collectively had enough vehicles to last about 70 days. So, the impact isn't expected to be immediate. The strike is also only affecting a select few plants, which lessens the immediate impact of vehicle production.
"They do not want to shut down the auto industry. They want to restrict it at this time. Because there’s a challenge with a union when they fully go on strike, although it makes a major statement. But the union itself will have to pay those workers and they don’t have the reserves to take care of the 150,000 workers that are on strike," Lee said.
Many on the picket lines say a strike needs to happen, arguing the average industry salary simply isn't enough.
A big strike, with big implications. Even in Montana.
"If a union goes on strike, it affects the suppliers of all the parts to that plant, it affects the transporters, it affects the truckers, it affects the businesses that support the plant in those hometown cities, so there will be ripples from it," said Lee.