Next-gen Cruze nearly ready to cruise


By Kalea Hall | khall@vindy.com

LORDSTOWN

It’s been said you can become the best by learning from the best.

In that case, the future looks bright for the next-generation Chevrolet Cruze built here in the Mahoning Valley.

“I have had a chance to see it, and it is amazing,” said Glenn Johnson, president of the United Auto Workers Local 1112. “The buying public will be very pleased with the next-generation Chevy Cruze,”

The world will see the next-generation Cruze on Wednesday at a global unveiling in Detroit. The Vindicator will report live from the Motor City.

Its predecessor, GM’s best-selling car, hit success after success to make its presence known in the auto world and the compact-car segment. The plan for its successor is to build off the momentum and continue to keep things rolling in the right direction.

“The Cruze was a vast leap ahead of the previous economy car, the Cobalt,” said Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book senior analyst. “If you looked at it without any influence it was an objectively well-conceived and well-executed vehicle.”

VALLEY’S CAR COMPETES

The Valley’s Cruze came to life in 2010. The goal was for it to be a home-run compact car. It would give GM a competitive edge in the compact-car segment that was traditionally owned by foreign automakers.

“They came out with the Cruze when others were stumbling a little,” Brauer said.

At the time, the Toyota Corolla was not resonating with customers, Brauer explained, and neither was the Honda Civic – the Cruze’s top competitor.

The Cruze’s high-quality components led those customers with foreign-car tastes to consider purchasing a domestic vehicle made in Lordstown.

“It offered relatively good performance and fuel efficiency,” Brauer said.

The Cruze was introduced when consumers were choosing cars instead of trucks and sport utility vehicles. In its second month of sales in December 2010, it hit more than 10,000 sales. By April 2011, sales were above 25,000.

“It caught fire from the get go,” Johnson said. “Every model we have gotten has gotten significantly better than its predecessor.”

The Cobalt was a stepping stone as were the other vehicles produced at Lordstown.

“I think GM had to listen to their customers,” said Robert Morales, president of the UAW Local 1714.

The automaker had to provide a sleek vehicle that would have an eye-catching design, good gas mileage and other features, Morales explained.

In June 2011, the Cruze became the first American-made vehicle to lead the compact-car segment in five years. The following month brought better news with the Cruze coming out as the best-selling car in the U.S. for the month of June with 24,896 sales.

“[The Cruze] was a big car when it launched,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds senior analyst. “The Cobalt didn’t rock anyone’s world.”

KEPT CRUZIN’

The Cruze’s success continued in 2012. In February 2012, the Cruze was named the “Best Compact Car for the Money” by U.S. News & World Report.

In March 2013, the Cruze was in the top 10 of most-sold passenger vehicles. That same month, the Cruze was named the best 2013 compact car for families by U.S. News & World Report.

In July 2013, the Cruze had its best sales month with 32,871 sales.

Even during 2014, the year of massive GM recalls, including the faulty ignition-switch recall on the Cobalt, the Cruze continued to roll off dealer lots. In May 2014, the sales nearly beat the Cruze’s top record with 32,393 sales.

A refreshed Cruze hit dealerships in late 2014. Features included a facelift and access to 4G LTE with Wi-Fi availability.

Last month, GM reported 23,752 Cruzes were sold.

To date, more than 1 million Cruzes have come off the Lordstown assembly line.

“It was never a one-hit wonder,” Brauer said. “It maintained success impressively well.”

DEALERS LOVE IT

Talk to Chevy dealers in the area, and they will most likely tell you the Cruze is either their No. 1 seller or No. 2 seller, and it has been for awhile.

“It is a very popular-selling car, and I am so glad we have it here in the Mahoning Valley,” said Barry Gonis, general manager of North Jackson’s Spitzer Chevrolet.

Gonis loves to compare the Cruze with a Toyota vehicle because, to him, the quality of the Cruze squashes the competition.

“It blew Toyota away,” Gonis said. “We love it.”

The Cruze also is loved at Greenwood Chevrolet in Austintown.

“People love its style, functionality, and they love its performance,” Greg Greenwood said.

In the area there is an attitude of “this is ours,” which helps with sales.

“There is a lot of support for the Cruze locally,” Greenwood said. “We always do well with a Lordstown car.”

When the Cruze came onto his dealership’s lot, Greenwood said he was blown away by its improvements. It had advanced engineering and design.

“This car is doing a good job of bringing people into the Chevrolet/GM family,” Greenwood said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

The auto industry is an important part of the local, state and national economy.

“The governor is very thankful for the auto industry here in Ohio,” said Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich. “He hopes they invest more in our state and works closely with all auto manufacturers to help make that happen.”

Manufacturing in Greater Youngstown employs more than 30,000 workers.

“[The auto industry] is a very important driver of manufacturing,” said George Mokrzan, director of economics for Huntington Bank.

Workers here means they invest here. About 4,500 are employed at the Lordstown plant. Hundreds of others are employed locally to supply the plant.

“The plant carried us through dark times in the Valley,” Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill said. “That is the one thing that helped the whole Valley.”

When the steel mills shut down, the plant was there to employ workers.

“That plant has 4,500 employees working three shifts, and the spinoff from that is what keeps this Valley going,” Hill said.

The plant led to other investments in the village of Lordstown. Right now, Missouri-based NorthPoint Development is working to build a Lordstown Logistics Center – an industrial park that will have GM suppliers. The center is expected to have four to five buildings totaling 1.5 million to 2 million square feet. Up to 2,000 could be employed there.

“I think the [GM Lordstown] plant is going to be around for quite awhile,” Hill said.

To build the next-generation Cruze and the first-generation model, GM has continually invested in the Lordstown plant.

In August 2008, GM announced a $500-million investment to build the Cruze. To date, about $250 million has been invested to build the next-generation Cruze. In 2010, GM added a third shift at Lordstown.

“We were able to sustain that,” Johnson said. “We could keep our members and provide job security. That is our No. 1 goal.”

To U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, the Cruze came along in the Valley during an uncertain time and provided stability.

The Cruze’s arrival followed a difficult time for GM. The 2008 recession hit the nation’s automobile industry hard. In 2009, President Barack Obama sought an $82-billion federal government bailout for GM and Chrysler.

“Having the Cruze here and the next-generation Cruze, it is a very powerful reminder that we need to stay ahead of the curve,” Ryan said.

In Ryan’s travels, he often sees the Cruze, and it reminds him of home.

“They are just really great cars,” Ryan said. “I think that will translate to the next generation.”

the next generation

To GM, the Lordstown plant plays a critical role in the Cruze’s future as the first plant to produce the next-generation Cruze for the largest and most-competitive segment in the world.

“The Cruze is imperative for General Motors and for Chevrolet,” said Annalisa Bluhm of Chevrolet communications. “Success with this vehicle is critical for us. I think you will see how we listened to our customers and put our best foot forward with this vehicle.”

GM has said the next-generation Cruze will be larger, yet lighter. It will have new technology, powertrain and safety features. The next-generation Cruze will have better integration with Android and Apple phones. The new model also offers 2 inches more for rear legroom.

The Cruze rollout follows that of the Chevrolet Volt, Spark, Malibu and Camaro.

The rollouts bring 25 new technologies to improve safety, fuel economy, performance and connectivity to the Chevrolet brand. The new Cruze will hit showrooms in early 2016.

Analysts have said the new Cruze has a sleek design – a very important feature.

“That is why the last one did so well,” Brauer said. “I think the next car’s styling will do that. It will look compelling for small-compact standards.”

The new Cruze is making its way into a different time in the auto industry from its predecessor. Competition today is stiff as many drivers seek a larger vehicle.

“These cars are competitive,” Caldwell said. “If things are to change, they are ready to capture more customers.”

More like this from vindy.com

Subscribe Today

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive daily news.

Want more? Click here to subscribe to either the Print or Digital Editions.