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UAW leaders mum on GM talks, but say gas prices...

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Link: http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0...utos-294887.htm

UAW leaders mum on GM talks, but say gas prices are a growing concern

By Dee-Ann Durbin / AP Auto Writer

DETROIT - United Auto Workers union leaders said Friday they are increasingly concerned about gas prices and how they'll affect the Big Three automakers. But the union was mum on the subject of what it might do to help lower soaring labor and health care costs.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger refused to speculate on the outcome of ongoing negotiations with General Motors Corp. and its former parts division, Delphi Corp. GM wants the UAW to help it lower health-care costs before its contract expires in 2007, while Delphi chairman and chief executive Robert S. Miller says Delphi will consider filing for bankruptcy this fall unless it works out a deal to lower its costs.

"I'm not sure if he's overplaying his hand or not," Gettelfinger said of Miller's comments. "It will take us some time to work our way through that."

Gettelfinger said he wouldn't discuss the union's review of GM's financial situation, which began several weeks ago. He added that the Big Three should focus on ways to increase their market share instead of health-care costs.

"It's the low-hanging fruit. It's easy to grab that and say that will take care of our problems," he said.

At a breakfast marking the 75th anniversary of the union, Gettelfinger and other union leaders said one immediate concern for the Big Three is rising gas prices. The average retail price of gasoline rose to a record $2.61 per gallon this week.

Automakers have been reluctant to say gas prices are affecting vehicle sales. While sales of large SUVs were declining before this summer's round of discounts, sales of pickups were brisk. Some analysts insist vehicle-buying habits won't change as long as gas prices stay lower than $4 a gallon and people believe the spike is only temporary.

But Gettelfinger said he's skeptical.

"Some people say until it gets over $3 a gallon it won't really matter, but I think when the average person pulls up to the fuel pumps, it does have an impact on them," said Gettelfinger, who recently began driving a hybrid Ford Escape.

GM has said gas prices are affecting sales of large SUVs only marginally, and the bigger problem for the company is its aging lineup. GM has placed its hopes on several new and redesigned trucks and SUVs in 2006, including the Chevrolet HHR, as well as new engines out in 2007 that will improve fuel efficiency.

"Consumers have voted with their wallets in favor of trucks for some time now," GM's vice president for global product planning John Smith said earlier this month.

UAW vice president Richard Shoemaker, the union's chief negotiator with GM, said time will tell if the company's strategy is the right one. Shoemaker said gas prices are causing him to consider replacing his GMC Canyon pickup with a hybrid vehicle.

"I've been shocked and surprised and a little disappointed about how much it costs to fill it," Shoemaker said. "I think it's nonsense to suggest that the price of gasoline doesn't impact consumers' buying habits."

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Gm should be giving a thought to gas prices. The prices arent going to go down soon if ever. Prices here I was told when I got gas today are going to go up 20-30 cents. Cost me $61 to fill the 1984 Buick Park Avenue we are working on. Lucky I dont drive it much.

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