Tesla should be Valley’s fallback plan if GM bolts

Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich, who will be leaving office at the end of the year, has made a pitch to Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla, to take over the Lordstown car assembly plant if General Motors decides to padlock the 52-year-old complex.

GM has announced it will end production of the Chevrolet Cruze, the one-time bestselling compact car made in Lordstown, in March and has designated the facility “unallocated.” It means the giant automaker does not have another product for the Mahoning Valley’s autoworkers.

In twitter message Tuesday to Musk, the governor wrote: “Hey … Call me … There are no better workers than Ohio workers. And Lordstown is ready for you.”

The CEO of Tesla, which makes electric cars, replied, “Thanks, will consider next year.”

While we are grateful to Kasich for going to bat for this region, we remain unwavering in our contention that GM owes its Lordstown workers another product – not only because J.D. Power ranked the plant as GM’s best in the United States, Canada and Mexico for quality, but because labor and management have forged a partnership that is the template for all auto manufacturing facilities.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that the Cruze, and before it, the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Chevrolet Cavalier were among the best in GM’s fleet.

As Ohio’s U.S. senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman, said in a column written for Fox Business, “We want answers, but the people of Lordstown deserve more than that. They deserve the opportunity to once again show what they can do. They deserve the chance to make cars in the community many of them have called home for their entire lives, and to be treated with respect and dignity they have earned through the region’s decades-long commitment to GM.”

Vocal criticism

The senators, along with area U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, and Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, have been vocal in their criticism of GM’s chairwoman and chief executive officer, Mary Barra, for deciding to idle four U.S. plants while spending many hundreds of millions of dollars on production facilities in Mexico and elsewhere.

The federal lawmakers have reminded Barra that the company’s huge profits today are the result of the federal bailout under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and the huge corporate tax cuts orchestrated by President Donald Trump, a Republican.

Barra has yet to come to the Mahoning Valley to explain why the Lordstown plant is being idled and what lies ahead for the expansive complex.

GM is sitting on billions of dollars in cash, which it plans to use to launch numerous electric car models in the next five years.

We have long argued the Lordstown plant is ready, willing and able to produce one or more electric car models, and have pointed out that GM has spent more than $1 billion over the years in upgrading the plant to accommodate the Cavalier, Cobalt and Cruze.

As for assigning a crossover, SUV or truck to Lordstown, Barra told Brown and Portman that the paint shop would need to be upgraded and that is would be cost prohibitive.

If the cost is a deal-breaker when it comes to GM assigning a new product to replace the Cruze, we are confident the state of Ohio would be more than willing to put together a lucrative economic-incentive package.

We’re sure that departing Gov. Kasich and incoming Gov. Mike De-Wine would not hesitate to tap into the state’s $2 billion rainy day fund to pick up the tab for meeting GM’s needs for a new paint shop.

After all, if the closing of the half- century-old Lordstown assembly complex doesn’t qualify as a financial rainy day, nothing does.

As we said at the outset, Kasich is to be commended for reaching out to Tesla’s CEO Musk, but the priority for the Mahoning Valley and the state of Ohio must be to bring another General Motors product to the Mahoning Valley.

Earlier this month, Brown and Portman sent a letter to Barra with a long list of important questions about the company’s plans. They received a reply Friday from an underling of Barra’s.

We will comment on that response in the coming days.