Signs point to plant revamp
Engineers have been assigned to the plant, and progress is being made on the design of a new car.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
LORDSTOWN -- General Motors is starting to assign engineering experts to the Lordstown Assembly Plant, indicating that plans for a $500 million renovation are moving along, a union official said.
Curt Friedlander, an engineer who is an expert in revamping conveyor systems, recently was assigned to Lordstown from Detroit, said John Mohan, shop chairman of United Auto Workers Local 1112.
GM officials have told the union that other engineers who are proficient in preparing for new vehicle models are coming to the plant soon.
"It looks very positive," Mohan said.
Plant and union officials are waiting for top GM executives to approve a new small car for the plant, which employs 4,300 hourly workers. Executives are considering a plan that would keep production going during a massive renovation that's needed to boost quality and efficiency.
While GM hasn't committed to giving the plant a replacement for the aging Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, top GM officials have indicated that they are focusing on Lordstown for small car production, Mohan said.
New product: Bob Lutz, chairman of GM North America, said in a telecast to top GM managers and union officers recently that he is hopeful that the company's new small car will be approved and that the company can "move fast on it."
He said Lori Queen, a Detroit executive who is product manager for the proposed car, "is doing an outstanding job pulling it together" and using GM's resources in Europe to help with styling and general architecture.
While Lutz didn't mention Lordstown, Mohan said his comments about Queen are a positive sign for Lordstown because she has been working with plant officials on the proposed car and is to visit the plant next month.
Lutz said GM's best option from a business standpoint might be to shut down its small car operations in the United States and use Daewoo, a Korean automaker being acquired by GM, to produce small cars. They could be imported as Chevrolet or Pontiac models, he said.
GM is prevented from using this strategy because cars imported from overseas can't be used to meet federal mileage standards, he said.
Automakers must maintain a fleet average of 27.5 miles a gallon among cars that are produced in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Lutz said that to sell its profitable large cars, it must produce small cars somewhere in these three countries.
Hogan's return: Besides the assigning of engineers and comments about Queen, a third positive sign for Lordstown is the return of GM executive Mark Hogan to the company's design team, Mohan said.
GM announced Thursday that Hogan is now group vice president in charge of advance vehicle development.
Mohan said he thinks Hogan's return to vehicle development is a good sign because he always spoke highly of Lordstown when he was the head of GM's small car operations.
Hogan was moved to GM's electronic commerce unit in 1999. Previously, he had led efforts to build a new assembly plant in Lordstown that would have relied on assembling cars by large sections, resulting in fewer jobs in the plant and more at nearby suppliers. The idea to bring these modular-build plants to Lordstown and elsewhere was abandoned amid objections from the national UAW.