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Can I still find the car I want? How UAW's GM strike will affect availability of vehicles

Nathan Bomey, USA TODAY

For people looking to buy a new General Motors car or truck, showrooms still have plenty of options for now, even with the company's autoworkers on strike.

That's because GM piled up an unusually high supply of vehicles in recent weeks as the prospect of a United Auto Workers strike against the company grew more likely. And early Monday, unionized workers walked off the job, leaving GM plants unable to produce vehicles.

All four GM brands have substantially more inventory on hand than the industry average, according to Cox Automotive, which owns Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader. Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet had an average of 98, 89, 84 and 72 days supply of new vehicles at the end of August, respectively, compared with an industry average of 61 days.

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With about 77 days supply for its entire vehicle fleet, a UAW strike would have to last months before the automaker would be emptied out of vehicles altogether. 

But the strike has already lasted five business days, and individual vehicles could become tough to find much sooner if the strike tarries. For example, GM has only 57 days supply of the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV, which is less than the average of 64 days for that segment, according to Cox Automotive. It has 58 days supply of the Chevrolet Suburban.

However, the automaker's best-seller, the Chevy Silverado pickup, is readily available at 93 days supply. And the profit-minting Cadillac Escalade is plentiful at 102 days.

“GM has enough inventory for a short strike of one or two weeks. After that, it starts to get painful,” said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research.

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To be sure, the strike could almost immediately affect supplies of certain specialty vehicles, including limited-edition models and special orders.

For example, if someone wants to order an unusual trim package combined with specific options, they might need to put their plans on hold until plants come back online.

Plus, the Teamsters union vowed to block its members from delivering GM vehicles. That could eventually affect supplies at some showrooms, though dealers can often trade each other to obtain cars for their customers.

"I think this is going to probably impact consumers that are looking for specialized GM vehicles," said George Augustaitis, director of automotive industry and economic analysis at CarGurus. "They’re really going to have to wait it out if that’s what they’re looking for."

Of course, some models will be tough to find because they were already set to go away. The Chevrolet Cruze, for example, has been discontinued in a decision that prompted GM to idle its plant in Lordstown, Ohio. That decision has generated political opposition, and GM is reportedly considering making batteries at the plant instead of shutting it down altogether.

In any case, the strike will cost GM. While the company could try to make up for lost time by accelerating production when the strike ends, some plants are operating at full capacity, which will limit their ability to catch up.

"GM could potentially offset lost production once the strike ends; it could also use the strike as an opportunity to keep inventory levels in-line," Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy wrote in a research note.

Contributing: Detroit Free Press reporter Jamie LaReau

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GM strike: How UAW work stoppage will affect vehicles for sale