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GM’s decision to mothball Lordstown plant foreseen

Sunday, December 2, 2018

No one in the Mahoning Valley should have been surprised by General Motors’ announcement Monday that production of the Chevrolet Cruze at its massive Lordstown complex will end in March. There isn’t another vehicle assigned to the 52-year-old plant to replace the Cruze.

For at least two years, The Vindicator, through news stories, editorials and columns, raised the spectre of this region’s economic driver disappearing because sales of the once-popular Cruze have been in a tailspin.

The elimination of the third shift last year and the second shift this summer strongly indicated that the future of auto manufacturing in the region was uncertain, at best.

We warned the community that GM Chairwoman and CEO Mary Barra’s refusal to publicly comment on the cuts of more than 2,500 jobs through the elimination of the two shifts was cause for concern.

There were Valley residents who took exception to our coverage, saying we were being overly negative. And there were supporters of Donald Trump who blasted us for demanding that the president talk to Barra about what was in store for the Lordstown assembly complex.

Last week’s announcement confirmed our suspicions that GM would shelve the Cruze and keep this region, which has been a loyal partner with the giant automaker, on tenterhooks.

Although Barra stopped short of saying that the plant will be permanently closed after production of the Cruze ends, her refusal to commit to the future puts the onus on the Valley to make the case for a new product.

While President Trump’s burst of anger last week over GM’s decision to mothball four U.S. plants made front-page news, the fact remains that he is late in joining the fight. A plant in Canada is also on the list.

Ohio’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman, and the Valley’s two U.S. representatives, Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican Bill Johnson, have long been on the front lines of the battle to keep the Lordstown plant open.

Above the fray

Indeed, Brown, Portman, Ryan and Johnson appealed to the president to call Barra, but Trump chose to remain above the fray.

Now, he’s angry and has threatened GM with economic sanctions if it padlocks its American plants while keeping those abroad open.

Trump should join Ohio’s senators and the Valley’s congressmen and labor, business and political leaders in demanding that GM transfer production of the Chevrolet Blazer from a plant in Mexico to Lordstown.

Barra has told Brown and Portman it would be too expensive to retool the assembly plant and build a new paint shop to accommodate SUVs, crossovers or trucks.

But as Brown and Ryan have pointed out, GM has received a windfall of billions of dollars as a result of the massive tax-cut package developed by Trump and approved by Republicans in Congress.

Brown and Ryan also have argued that GM owes its profitability today to former Democratic President Barack Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate who pushed through the federal bailout of GM and Chrysler that were on the verge of collapse due to the global economic recession.

In his comments last week, President Trump referred to the economic help GM received from Washington and said he expects the company to show more loyalty to this country. So do we.

The Lordstown assembly complex has a solid record of producing high-quality, top-selling cars. In addition, labor-management relations have never been better.

The argument for bringing the Chevy Blazer from Mexico to the Valley, or for assigning another product to replace the Cruze, can easily be made.

The investment GM would have to make to upgrade the Lordstown complex is a pittance compared with the billions of dollars the company is raking in as a result of the tax cuts.

But while the push is on to secure a new product, we urge JobsOhio, the state’s quasi-public economic development agency, to immediately begin the search for a new occupant for the massive assembly complex.

JobsOhio points to the reuse of the former auto plant in Moraine by an auto parts maker, but it took several years for the replacement to be found.

The Mahoning Valley does not have the luxury of waiting several years. The region still has not fully recovered from the closing of the steel mills 41 years ago, and recent job losses are undermining the economic turnaround that seems to be taking hold.