GM rubs salt in Valley’s wounds

It’s bad enough that General Motors has announced the investment of millions of dollars in plants in Michigan just weeks before the Lordstown assembly complex is to be padlocked.

But the pictures of GM CEO Mary Barra with a (you-know-what) grin posing with autoworkers in Lansing and Romulus is salt in the Valley’s wounds caused by GM’s decision to discontinue the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze.

Because the company has not assigned another product to replace the Cruze, once a top-selling vehicle in the giant automaker’s fleet, the 52-year-old plant will be mothballed.

It’s noteworthy that Barra has avoided the Mahoning Valley like the plague since she announced in November that the Lordstown plant will be idled. Three other plants in the U.S. and one in Canada are also to be darkened.

By contrast, the CEO was eager to share in the joy of workers at Lansing’s Delta Township Assembly plant and the Romolus Propulsion plant.

According to the Detroit News, GM plans to invest $36 million at its Lansing facility to finance production of popular crossover vehicles.

GM currently builds the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave at its newest plant in the U.S. The company has said it has produced 2 million crossovers at the site since 2006.

The Detroit News noted that the carmaker is pulling unprofitable products out of production this year ahead of the 2019 contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers.

As for the Lordstown facility, Barra was quoted as saying GM is continuing to “explore options” while moving forward with plans to “unallocate” product from the plant on March 1, the News reported.

“The plants GM plans to idle this year all build sedans or small cars. The automaker has job openings around the country for all but 100 of the 2,800 factory workers at the plants that will be idled, though those jobs aren’t always nearby. Meanwhile, the autoworker began in February laying off 4,250 salaried employees,” the paper reported.

Barra told the newspaper that the layoffs are “largely completed” and the company is moving forward.

“It’s about making sure people understood why we made the difficult decisions, and are now moving forward,” the CEO said. “And that’s what everybody is committed to do.”

Given Barra’s deafening silence with regard to the future of the Lordstown plant, her comment that the company is “now moving forward” is not good news for the Valley.

Indeed, GM’s investment of $20 million at its Romulus Propulsion plant to increase its capacity for future 10-speed transmission production does not bode well for Lordstown.

Romulus currently builds V6 engines and 10-speed transmissions used in several GM cars, trucks and crossovers.

The announcement of the investment came on the heels of the company saying it would add 1,000 jobs for truck production at its Flint assembly facility.

In January, the automaker said it plans to spend $22 million at its Spring Hill, Tenn., plant to build new engines.

So what does Barra mean when she says the company is continuing to “explore options” with regard to its Lordstown facility, which has consistently ranked as one of GM’s top producers in terms of quality, safety and cost? Only she knows.

It’s no secret that the Cruze and before it the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Chevrolet Cavalier were among the best-selling compact cars in the country.

That’s why the decision to idle the huge complex has come as such a shock to the people of this region.

From a business standpoint, GM’s failure to assign another product is not only shortsighted, but it flies in the face of President Donald Trump’s demand to America’s Big Three automakers to shut down operations abroad and create jobs at home.

Predictably, GM’s decision to build the reengineered iconic Chevrolet Blazer SUV in a plant in Mexico has caused a firestorm in Congress and in the White House.

It would appear President Trump is under the illusion that his directive to the automakers – he threatened to punish them financially if they ignored him – has the CEOs at GM, Chrysler and Ford quaking in their boots.

Instead, they’re laughing in the face of the president of the United States.

During a recent visit to El Paso, Texas, where he demanded that Congress give him $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump contended that his economic policies, including massive tax cuts for corporations, are bearing fruit in the form of business investments and job creation.

He specifically referred to the auto industry in touting his record in office.

“We’re most proud of the fact – you look at the car companies, they’re moving back, they’re going into Michigan, they’re going into Pennsylvania, they’re going back to Ohio, so many companies are coming back,” the president claimed.

And in comments to reporters on Feb. 6, Trump said this: “We have massive numbers of companies coming back into our country – car companies. We have seven car companies coming back in right now, and there’s going to be a lot more.”

But in fact-checking Trump’s claims, reporters found no such discernible influx of auto companies.

Since Trump took office in 2017, auto manufacturing employment has risen by about 51,000 jobs to just over 1 million, according to the Labor Department. That’s a 5 percent increase over two years.

Trump’s mention of Ohio is particularly interesting, given his awareness that GM will be idling the Lordstown plant next month. He has talked to Barra, but thus far the chief executive officer has not yielded to pressure from the president.

Thus, Trump, who plans to seek re-election next year, will have to admit to his supporters in the Valley that he sold them a bill of goods when he promised to revive the auto industry. Unless, of course, he’s able to force Barra to change her mind and assign a new product to the Lordstown plant.