Poor sales of Chevy Cruze add to this area's anxiety

Seven years after it roared into the nationwide market with much fanfare and great expectations, the Chevrolet Cruze, produced in General Motors’ Lordstown assembly complex, has hit a disturbing mark: The highly rated compact car had its second-worst sales month in November.

The 8,330 Lordstown-built Cruzes sold were a mere 264 more than the number sold in November 2010, the first month of the general sales of the successor to the hot-selling Chevrolet Cobalt. The Cobalt had replaced the Cavalier.

In other words, the success of General Motors’ line of compact cars is due in large part to what has taken place in the 51-year-old assembly and fabricating plants.

Indeed, in mid-2013, three years after they arrived in the showrooms around the country, more than 30,000 Cruzes were sold. In mid-2014, the numbers dipped slightly.

Then began the steady decline until last month’s troubling 8,330 total.

The anemic sales serve as an exclamation point to the narrative about the uncertain future of GM’s Lordstown assembly facility.

For the past year or so, The Vindicator has detailed the trials and tribulations of the Valley’s major employer in news stories, editorials and columns.

Our concern is not only triggered by the poor sales of the Chevrolet Cruze, but also the refusal by decision-makers in Detroit to give the people of the Mahoning Valley hope.

Their silence about GM’s plans for Lordstown has been deafening.

The reason for the steep decline in sales of the Cruze has nothing to do with the quality of the car, and everything to do with buyer preference.

As Vindicator Business Writer Kalea Hall noted in a front page story on Dec. 2, the Cruze was designated a “Top Pick” by Consumer Reports earlier this year.

The product testing and rating organization focused on several of the features that made the Cruze such a popular car: 153-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine; roominess; gas mileage of 30 mpg city and 47 mpg highway.

‘Top Pick’ designation

Hall reported that the Cruze was the first domestic compact car in a decade to earn the “Top Pick” designation. From 2013 through 2016, the Subaru Impreza owned the distinction.

With such glowing reviews, it defies logic that sales of the Cruze would continue to plummet.

But here’s the reality of the marketplace: Drivers have been choosing trucks and SUVs in increasing numbers as the cost of gas has remained comparatively low. As a result, GM has been heavily marketing those products, to the detriment of the Cruze.

In her story Dec. 2, Hall provided some sales numbers that flesh out the story:

While GM reported a 3 percent year-over-year decline in November, its last month’s figures showed increases in sales to individual customers of Chevrolet, Cadillac and GM crossovers.

Chevrolet crossovers were up 16 percent, spurred by a 59 percent increase for the Traverse; 20 percent increase for Buick crossovers, with Enclave sales more than doubling; an 11 percent increase for GMC crossovers.

Therein lies the problem for the Lordstown complex that makes a compact car. The decline in demand has forced the company to implement cost-saving measures.

The plants will close for a week for the Christmas holidays and then for the first two weeks in January.

There was a downturn of three weeks in September after three weeks in July, a two-week vacation at the end of June and three weeks in March.

The facility started the year with the elimination of the third shift, resulting in 600 assembly plant workers and 235 fabricating plant workers losing their jobs. Suppliers cut 190 positions.

All this has occurred without the brain trust in Detroit giving any indication of what’s in store for the very productive home of the Cruze.

Although employment has gone from a high of 15,000 – in its heyday the complex consisted of car, van and fabricating plants and a paint shop – to 3,000 today, there’s no official word about another product.

Political, business and community leaders in the Mahoning Valley have expressed a willingness to do whatever is necessary to ensure a vibrant future for Lordstown. However, they are hard-pressed to develop a strategy without any input from GM.

We, therefore, reiterate our call to Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich to contact Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra and pose this straightforward question: Is the Lordstown facility on the company’s chopping block?

Kasich should demand a straightforward answer.

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