By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
LORDSTOWN — The Chevrolet Cruze is creating optimism that jobs can be created at the local car plant even though new sales numbers for the Chevrolet Cobalt made at the auto complex look bad.
U.S. sales of the Cobalt were down 32 percent last month, which ended a dismal year for the small car. General Motors sold 104,700 Cobalts last year, which was down 44 percent from 2008.
Union officials at the car complex are not discouraged by the news GM released Tuesday, however. They expect a third shift will be added after the Cruze is launched next summer, which could mean that GM will hire more local workers.
“I’m confident that once the Cruze is launched, you’re going to see an uptick in our production,” said Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1714 at the fabricating plant in the complex.
He said he has spoken with some small-car buyers who are holding off making a purchase because the Cruze is coming.
Local 1714 has only 31 workers laid off, so the creation of a third shift would require the hiring of hundreds of workers unless they are brought in from another GM plant, Green said. The local has 940 members working.
Jim Graham, president of UAW Local 1112 at the assembly plant, said he thinks the nation’s economy will be picking up just in time for the Cruze launch this summer, which will spur sales.
He said the assembly plant would need about 1,000 more workers for a third shift. Local 1112 has about 400 members laid off, and Graham said he hopes that most of the rest would be people hired from the area.
Local 1112 has 2,400 members who are working on two shifts.
The complex briefly had three shifts operating in 2008, but the number of employees who are laid off has been reduced through a buyout and early-retirement offer and normal attrition.
December wrapped up a slow month for the car industry as consumers decided to hold on to their current vehicles and financing was difficult for many.
GM said that its U.S. sales were down 9 percent last month and 33 percent for 2009.
It sold 8,672 Cobalts last month, down 32 percent from the 12,786 that were sold in December 2008.
Despite the decline from year-ago numbers, last month’s totals showed improvement from the previous three months. Sales in September through November didn’t reach above 7,400.