Diesel version of the Cruze again spotlights Lordstown

There’s a reason the Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel attracted so much attention at the Cleveland Auto Show: It will be in a class all its own when it rolls off the assembly line at General Motors’ Lordstown plant. No other American auto maker has a domestic diesel model.

The fact that GM trusts its Mahoning Valley assembly complex with this venture into uncharted waters speaks volumes.

The decision is an acknowledgement of the hard work and dedication of the employees and the cooperation between management and labor that have made the Cruze the top-selling compact car in America.

As The Vindicator reported from the Cleveland Auto Show, senior GM officials and Lordstown’s leadership believe the new diesel engine, which is made in Europe, will completely change the way drivers view an American compact car.

Production is to begin in May or June, but 53 test models have been assembled. According to the officials, the diesel Cruze has the torque and horsepower that make it feel like a larger V6.

Why put the diesel engine in the Cruze, which has been in production at the Lordstown plant for two and a half years? The answer lies in the way the car has been selling in the U.S. and Canada. More than 270,000 units have been delivered to dealers in North America.

Worldwide, the Cruze, which is also produced in Europe and China, has hit the 2 million mark in sales. That’s impressive by any standard.

Glenn Johnson, president of the United Autoworkers Local 1112 at the Lordstown plant, offered this perspective about the success of the car’s production:

“It’s the people, the dedication of our employees on a daily basis — it’s why they come to work every day, and those numbers show it.”

In 2012, the Cruze dominated the compact-car sales in the Mahoning Valley, accounting for 38 percent of the segment’s sales.

As we said in an editorial in January, “It doesn’t get much better than starting a new year with good news.” We were referring to the fact that the year-end sales figures were extraordinary. In December, 21,230 Cruzes were sold, a 27 percent increase over December 2011. November 2012 sales were also 27 percent higher than a year earlier.

There are reasons for the strong showing: Safety, quality and warranty standards. Shoppers who read Consumer Reports saw the Cruze listed among 16 “newly recommended” models based on improved reliability.

And all those positive factors are wrapped in a price tag that makes the Cruze a great buy.

The positive news about the car and the anticipation of the diesel version have laid the ground work for the future of the Lordstown plant.

Major investment

The company plans to invest $200 million to upgrade the complex for the next generation of the Cruze, which is expected in 2015.

That investment is on top of the $350 million GM spent at Lordstown to switch production from the highly successful Chevrolet Cobalt and the Pontiac G5 to the Cruze.

General Motors, which has made a miraculous recovery from its financial collapse that triggered a federal government bailout, has announced it is buying back all the stock now held by the federal government.

The decision by the company to commit the next generation of the Cruze to Lordstown is significant on many levels, especially in light of the fact that there are numerous communities vying for GM’s attention.

It is a high stakes game, which the Mahoning Valley is winning so far. The success of the Chevrolet Cavalier and the Pontiac Sunfire, then the Cobalt and Pontiac G5, now the Cruze and soon the Cruze diesel have established the Lordstown facility as one of the best in General Motors’ worldwide operation.

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