Lordstown plant in Astra's future?

DETROIT — The Lordstown car plant probably will lose the Chevrolet Cobalt but stands a fighting chance to gain a new Saturn car, an industry observer said.

Sean McAlinden, chief economist for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he expects General Motors Corp. to move production of the Cobalt to Mexico eventually in order to save on labor costs.

The Saturn Astra, another compact car, could land in Lordstown, however, he said. McAlinden spoke about Lordstown and the industry in general Saturday in Detroit at a seminar on the automotive industry.

The future of the Lordstown plant was called into question last month when union officials there said they had been told the plant is “very vulnerable” to closing because GM isn’t making money on the Cobalt. GM has scheduled production of the Cobalt there until mid-year 2009. McAlinden said GM wants to make money on the car and hasn’t been able to.

In fact, it has been losing money on small cars for 20 years, he said. He expects production of the car to shift to Mexico. He said it is curious that GM has announced it is building a new small car plant in Mexico but is saying that those cars only will be shipped to Latin American countries.

In the meantime, GM announced last month that it will introduce the Saturn Astra in the U.S. this coming fall. It is a sister car to the Opel Astra, a small car that is made in Belgium and has been sold in Europe.

Read the full story Sunday in The Vindicator and Vindy.com.

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