By GRACE WYLER
It was a moment for celebration at the Lordstown General Motors Complex here, when the company kicked off official production of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze.
Accompanied by cheerleaders and the Boardman High School marching band, Mark Reuss, GM’s North America president, and Gov. Ted Strickland led a red, white and blue caravan of the first Cruze cars into the festivities. They rode in the first Cruze.
The pair then presented the Chevy All-Stars, a group of 18 local Chevy dealers, with the first Cruze key.
“I learned a long, long time ago that you can never count out the Mahoning Valley,” Strickland said Wednesday. “The only thing stronger than Valley steel are Valley people.”
Rousing the crowd of about 500 Lordstown employees, retirees and other community members, Strickland addressed critics of American manufacturing.
“I have four words for them: Look at this car!” he said. “This is a brand-new car made to redefine what carmakers are capable of.”
Strickland and other elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, pointed to the Cruze as evidence of a resurgence in Ohio manufacturing, praising Strickland for his staunch support of the federal government’s bailout of GM last year.
“It is always the auto industry that pulls the country out of the recession,” Brown said. “Every time someone buys a Cruze it means jobs for the Mahoning Valley, jobs for northern Ohio.”
“We announce to the world today that the Mahoning Valley is back,” Ryan said. “We are going to keep making things.”
Strickland and Brown later joined President Barack Obama for his speech on the economy at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma.
The president did not mention Lordstown or the Cruze launch in his remarks, which focused on infrastructure investments and the extension of tax credits for research and development.
Reuss heralded the Cruze launch as a turning point for the company, the Valley and the American economy.
“I can’t shake the feeling that the rebirth of the American economy starts right here in Lordstown,” he said. “This Cruze is the key to our future, and the effects will reverberate through the company, the country and the economy.”
The Cruze is the “finest compact car GM has ever done, period,” Reuss said.
GM, which has historically trailed foreign competitors like Honda and Toyota in the small-car segment, is counting on the Cruze to gain a larger share of the competitive compact market.
“The car is proving to be everything we hoped it would be,” Reuss said, pointing to the Cruze’s strong sales overseas as an indicator of the car’s success.
The Cruze is “the best car in the world,” added Jim Graham, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112.
“We will take on anything the Asian market can throw at us, and we will beat them,” Graham added.
Graham and UAW Local 1714 President David Green thanked the plant’s workers, GM and the Valley community for throwing their support behind the plant and the Cruze.
“You guys are going to be proud when we roll out this car,” Green said. “We are going to make you proud you supported us.”
As a further show of the community’s support, Lordstown Mayor Michael Chaffee announced that the stretch of Hallock-Young Road that runs in front of the plant’s East Complex would be renamed the Chevrolet-UAW Parkway.
“For all of the doubters who said that GM wasn’t worth saving come to Lordstown and see what an American worker can produce,” Chaffee said.