Unsolved mystery: GM’s betrayal

When did General Motors first decide to end production of the highly successful Chevrolet Cruze and to shutter the 53-year-old huge Lordstown assembly complex ?

The answer remains a mystery four months after GM turned its back on the Mahoning Valley. Company officials have not been forthcoming with details about the decision-making process. Indeed, they have couched their comments about the Cruze and the Lordstown plant’s closing in corporate gobbledygook.

Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, who hasn’t had the decency to come to the Valley to explain why the region’s loyalty was rewarded with a kick in the pants, offered an unconvincing defense of the decision during an interview with the New York Times.

Barra said sales of the Cruze had declined as consumers switched from sedans to trucks, SUVs and crossovers.

But a review of the annual sales of the compact car leads to the conclusion that Barra isn’t telling all.

Here are the numbers:

The first Cruze was sold in September 2010, and by the end of that year 24,495 units were snapped up.

In 2011, there were 231,732 Cruzes sold; in 2012 – 231,758; in 2013 – 248,224; in 2014 (the year Barra was appointed CEO) – 273,060; in 2015 – 226,602.

In 2016, General Motors launched the second generation of the Cruze and the numbers dipped. There were 188,876 units sold.

In 2017, sales hit 184,751 – despite the fact that General Motors had eliminated the third shift in January of that year.

It’s important to remember that Republican President Donald Trump came to the Mahoning Valley in July and promised 7,000 of his rabid supporters that he was going to reopen the huge steel mills that once dotted the banks of the Mahoning River.

Trump also said he would boost the number of American auto manufacturing jobs by forcing GM, Chrysler and Ford to close their plants abroad.

Barra reacted to Trump’s promises to the Valley by eliminating the second shift at the Lordstown assembly plant in June 2018.

The company subsequently announced that it would idle four plants in the U.S. and one in Canada in early 2019.

As a result, the last Cruze rolled off the assembly plant in March of this year.

However, in 2018, there were 142,617 cars sold and 39,477 through June of this year.

But here’s a dirty little secret GM doesn’t want the people of the Mahoning Valley to know: The decline in sales of the Chevrolet Cruze can be traced to the end of a national advertising campaign for the compact car.

Consider this fact: In 2017, a group of 17 car dealers in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys called “The Cruze All Stars” launched a TV commercial campaign to highlight the award- winning Cruze.

Tom Brittain of Brittain Motors in East Palestine and vice president of the All Stars, offered a glowing review of the car, which was Consumer Reports “Top Pick” for a compact sedan. It had been a decade since an American-built vehicle had won such acclaim.

“The car is a great car,” Brittain said. “It has always been a good seller. Ever since it came out. The workers at the plant and the engineers have developed a car that is very economical and very well priced and very dependable with a great resale value. We want all our people to realize that.”

So, why would Barra and other company officials dump a product that dealers wanted in their showrooms?

The answer lies in GM’s bottom line.

According to Reuters news service, GM earns $17,000 in pre-tax profit on average for every full-size pick up sold. Thus, the company launched the 2019 Silverado and the 2019 Sierra.

By contrast, the profit on a compact like the Cruze is significantly lower.

But there’s still the question of when General Motors made the decision to end production of the Cruze and to shutter the huge Lordstown assembly complex.

In absence of an official timeline, we can only speculate – based on the comments of a high-ranking company official.

Last summer, Renee J. Rashid-Merem, then director of Global Manufacturing & Labor Communications, came to The Vindicator from Detroit to voice her objections to the newspaper’s editorials and this writer’s columns that were harshly critical of CEO Barra for eliminating shifts at the Lordstown plant and cutting back on production of the Cruze.

The editorials and columns portrayed Barra and other company higher-ups as hard-hearted corporate types who cared little about the pain and suffering they were causing in the Valley.

Rashid-Merem, who was accompanied by GM Lordstown spokesman Tom Mock, insisted that The Vindicator was way off-base in suggesting that the decisions about the future of the assembly complex were being made haphazardly and on the fly.

She contended that it takes at least six years for GM to develop a new product or discontinue a model.

Given that time frame, it would seem that the decision to end production of the Cruze this year was made in 2013 or 2014, when Barra became chief executive officer.

To reiterate, in 2013, GM sold 248,224 Cruzes; in 2014, there were 273,060 sold.

It’s also clear that the company had no plans to assign another product to the Lordstown plant after the Cruze was shelved.

The fact that the decision-makers in Detroit were singing the praises of the Lordstown plant and its workers while knowing that the facility was on borrowed time is the height of depravity.