GM’s Lordstown complex has earned a viable future

As General Motors CEO Mary Barra and United Auto Workers President Gary Jones were shaking hands Tuesday to mark the start of labor contract negotiations, a television commercial being aired for the Chevrolet Blazer served as an exclamation point for what’s at stake.

Indeed, Jones’ comments during the opening ceremony in Detroit highlighted the irony of GM touting the redesigned and re-engineered iconic Blazer SUV.

“General Motors has the fastest-shrinking footprint in America,” the UAW president said. “We will leave no stone unturned. You put us on the block, our location on the block, we will fight to keep these plants open and allocate products here on American soil.”

One of the plants GM has “put … on the block” is its 53-year-old massive Lordstown assembly plant.

But as the giant automaker was pulling up stakes in the Mahoning Valley, it was rolling out the Blazer in an assembly plant in Mexico.

GM has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in its Ramos Arizpe facility to build a vehicle that is as American as apple pie.

When asked why the SUV wasn’t assigned to the Lordstown complex after GM decided to halt production of the top-selling Chevrolet Cruze compact car, Barra and members of her inner circle offered explanations that were as unconvincing as they were convoluted.

The only credible explanation for selecting Mexico is that GM wanted to build the SUV as cheaply as possible.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Blazer commercial that kept airing through the day Tuesday extolled all its virtues but omitted the fact that it’s not made in America.

However, if UAW negotiators are waiting for GM to justify the idling of four American plants, including Lordstown, while investing obscenely large sums of money abroad, they’re in a for a long wait.

CEO’s contention

Here’s what Barra, who has avoided the Valley like the plague since she pulled the economic rug out from under the region, had to say during the handshake ceremony:

“While this industry has always been competitive, we must admit it’s only getting more so. More than ever, we must be agile, decisive and disciplined. We must be proactive on all fronts because we are not here merely to survive. We are here to lead it and to win. To build a stronger future, we need to win, we must deliver vehicles customers want today to earn a chance to compete tomorrow, invest in the talent and technologies of tomorrow to win as our industry changes ... .”

Implicit in that maze of a statement is this painful fact: GM has no intention of reopening the Lordstown assembly facility.

Thus the question: Will the United Auto Workers go to the mat for a plant that for more than a half-century produced some of the finest vehicles in the history of the auto industry?

The union, both locally and nationally, has insisted that GM will have a fight on its hands if it fails to allocate a new product for the Lordstown complex.

However, the reality is that many workers have taken jobs in other plants.

In addition, CEO Barra has publicly announced that GM and Cincinnati-based Workhorse have been in talks over the sale of the Lordstown complex.

Interestingly, the deal depends on UAW approval.

Workhorse, designer and builder of high-performance battery-electric vehicles, would buy the plant for a reported $300 million. But as The New York Times has noted, the small company, which has yet to turn a profit, must raise the money for the purchase.

Indeed, the company had to secure $25 million in financing to fill orders that were on the books.

Nonetheless, Republican President Donald Trump, who had warned GM not to shutter its American facilities, has hailed the Workhorse deal – even though the company does not now have the financial wherewithal to proceed.

It is noteworthy that Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, has cautioned against premature celebration because the Lordstown project depends on the Cincinnati company winning a contract from the U.S. Postal Service to build delivery trucks. Several other major automakers are vying for the agreement.

Given that uncertainty, we believe the best bet for the Valley is for GM to assign one or more of its planned electric models to Lordstown.

A contingent of UAW members from this area traveled to Detroit for the opening of the contract talks, and their message is one that should guide union negotiators: The Lordstown facility has earned a new GM product.