ROGERS, Ark. (AP) -- Changes in auto buying brought by high fuel prices is having an effect on Superior Industries wheel plants in Fayetteville and Rogers, but the plants have been able to adapt and keep their 1,600 employees working.
Truck and SUV sales have fallen by more than 8 percent so far this year, and big auto makers are reducing production and closing plants.
Superior has worked to diversify its business in recent years, so a dip in orders from the Big Three automakers will not deal as severe a blow, said Erika Turner, chief financial officer for Van Nuys, Calif.-based Superior Industries.
About 70 percent of Superior's business this year will come from sales to General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Last year, those companies accounted for 82 percent of sales, Turner said. This year, General Motors will comprise approximately 35 percent of Superior's sales, compared to Ford's 22 percent and Chrysler's 14 percent.
Both the Fayetteville and Rogers plants are equipped to run smaller wheels, which are more in demand with the increase in demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Turner said the plants will need only minor retooling to make the smaller wheels. A much greater expense would be shifting from 15-inch wheels to 24-inch wheels.
The Rogers plant mainly sells wheels to Ford and Toyota, running 15-inch wheels for the Ford Focus and 18-inch wheels for the Ford F Series trucks, Ford Mustang and the Toyota Matrix. The factory produces between 36,000 and 38,000 wheels a week, Rogers plant manager Larry Beals said.
The larger Fayetteville plant mainly produces wheels for GM, ranging from 18 to 20 inches for pickups, Cadillac sedans, and mid size SUVs. Sales are slower for many of those models.
Beals said the Fayetteville plant also has a polishing division and is one of the company's largest production facilities, employing about 1,000 workers.
Turner said the Fayetteville plant could run the smaller wheels in the future but for now the company is still seeing a demand for 18-inch wheels as auto manufacturers are installing larger wheels on midsize and even compact cars.
''It is our intent to closely follow the trends of our industry and meet the needs of our customers as they change their vehicle offering focus.'' Turner told The Morning News.
Superior also supplies Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mazda, Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Volkswagen and Volvo, according to the company's Web site.
The Fayetteville plant is back to regular hours following the May 23 end of the three-month American Axle strike. The strike of such a large supplier to General Motors prompted the idling of 30 GM plants during that period and forced short weeks for many of Superior Industries workers. The Rogers plant which makes Ford products, was not affected, Beals said.