Even the most optimistic Mahoning Valley resident must feel some trepidation over the future of General Motors’ Lordstown assembly complex given last week’s announcement of another downturn.
Indeed, the explanation from GM decision-makers merely exacerbates this region’s worries. It’s the same one that has been proffered previously: Demand for the Chevrolet Cruze remains soft.
Thus, production of the Cruze has been halted this week, and will be stopped the weeks of Sept. 25 and Oct. 2.
This downturn follows a shutdown of the complex for three weeks in March, a two-week vacation at the end of June and three weeks in July.
The crowning blow came in January when GM eliminated the third shift, resulting in 600 assembly plant workers and 235 fabricating plant workers losing their jobs. Suppliers cut 190 positions.
Through it all, residents of the Valley are left to wonder if General Motors’ headquarters in Detroit has a solution to the drop in demand for the Cruze.
What is ironic is the compact car has received a high rating for quality, value and driver satisfaction. It has been one of the top sellers in General Motors’ fleet.
Absent an unequivocal statement from GM about the future of the Cruze and the Lordstown assembly complex, we are left to interpret recent statements from company officials.
Last month, Kurt McNeil, U.S. vice president for sales operations, had this to say about today’s automobile marketplace:
“Changing customer tastes have driven us to refocus our business on higher margins, faster-growing segments, like crossover segments. We are launching the most all-new crossovers in our history to take full advantage of the changes occurring in the U.S. marketplace. Our newest crossovers are performing very well in the marketplace, and we’ll build on that momentum with the all-new Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Terrain, Buick Enclave and the introduction of the Regal TourX through the second half of 2017.”
Three words in his statement are cause for concern: “ … refocus our business …”
That refocus is evident in GM’s television commercials that spotlight trucks, crossovers and SUVs.
LITTLE CRUZE PROMOTION
We can’t remember the last time there was a national commercial touting the highly rated, superior quality, very affordable Chevrolet Cruze.
Instead, GM has decided to cut back on fleet sales to keep the resale value up.
Here’s what Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader, said last week:
“They are focused on cutting down daily rental cars and doing things that will support higher resale value. It makes it better for people who buy that and trade them in.”
In last week’s announcement that production of the Cruze will be halted for three weeks, there was mention of “supplier constraint.” No explanation was given, so once again it becomes a mystery within the mystery that’s the future of the Lordstown assembly complex.
Readers of this space may wonder why we are so focused on General Motors and its plans for the future in the Valley.
The reason is straightforward: The assembly complex is a major economic driver in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and an important contributor to the state’s manufacturing prowess.
Our concern about the future is also driven by the fact that on Sept. 19, the Valley will commemorate the 40th anniversary of Black Monday.
On that date in 1977, the president of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. announced the company’s Campbell Works in Campbell and Struthers would be closed.
More than 4,000 workers lost their jobs.
Black Monday marked the beginning of the end of Big Steel in the Valley.
The region has not yet fully recovered from the loss of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly related to steel.
But through the years of economic dislocation, there has been one constant: GM’s Lordstown complex.
There was a time the assembly and fabricating plants and the paint shop employed more than 10,000 people.
Today, the number of employees is less than 4,000, but they’re still among the highest paid workers in the region.
We have long called for a meeting of business and labor leaders, officeholders and representatives of community organizations to discuss the future of auto manufacturing in the Valley.
Forty years ago, this region was largely blindsided by the Sheet & Tube announcement.
We had better be prepared for whatever decision GM makes about its Lordstown facility.