By ELIZABETH HAYES

Staff Reporter

As the strike at two General Motors Corp. parts plants enters its seventh week, Los Angeles-area GM dealers are feeling pinched.

Inventories have dwindled, forcing some customers to make do with colors, options or even models other than their first choice, or to buy from a rival manufacturer. For truck shoppers, GM's eagerly awaited new Silverado pickup trucks have not yet been delivered to lots.

"We're hurting big time. We have very limited inventory," said Badie Amar, sales manager for Chevrolet at the Felix Auto Center downtown.

Just 27 cars sat on the lot as of last week, compared to the 150 or so that are normally carried there. Instead of selling six or seven cars a day, Amar hadn't sold a single vehicle in two days.

At least half the dealership's customers are going elsewhere, to dealers selling such cars as Chryslers or Fords. And dealership employees are getting frustrated, fielding calls from people asking for models or colors that have run out.

It's not just Felix Auto Center that's hurting. GM's national market share for June was 31.2 percent, down from 32 percent in May, according to J.D. Power & Associates. While that may be a slight change in percentage terms, it represents a huge amount in terms of sales and vehicles. For each day the strike goes on, GM loses $80 million in sales and misses production of 20,000 vehicles.

"Whether they've lost sales that cannot be retrieved is not clear," said Bob Schnorbus, director of macro-economic analysis with J.D. Power in Detroit.

In addition to thinning inventory of some models, the United Auto Workers strike in Flint, Mich. also has raised doubts in buyers' minds that they can get what they want.

"The perception GM isn't producing vehicles is keeping people away and causing them to go to other dealerships," Schnorbus said. "I don't think things are that desperate yet, but it's getting harder to get what you want."

Those looking to trade in their old Chevy pickup for a new one may not want to wait. That has dealers concerned, he said, because when customers defect to a rival make, it's often tough to get them back. Even after the strike is settled, it will be at least two weeks and as long as a month before the dealerships get new deliveries.

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