Today marks the end of the two-week North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and the reviews of the vehicles on display must be cause for concern about the future of General Motors’ assembly complex in Lordstown.
Here’s how Forbes magazine online previewed the extravaganza under the headline “The Six Most Significant New Vehicles At The 2018 Detroit Auto Show – Just One Is A Car”:
“ … when car enthusiasts and might-be buyers look around for the best new vehicles they can look forward to, they will mostly see trucks and SUVs with all-wheel-drive, all the better to navigate the snowy streets of the Motor City.
“It’s not as if all the new vehicles and show cars are trucks and SUVs. Hyundai showed the media an all-new Veloster that goes on sale later this year. Kia showed a new Forte sedan. Honda is showing a new Insight hybrid sedan it debuted in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
“But the attention grabbers like the Chevy Silverado, Ram, Ford Ranger, and even the BMW X2 and Nissan XMotion concept, are all trucks and crossovers.
“The shift by the public away from two-door and four-door passenger cars is defining where and how automakers are spending their research and development money with more investment going to trucks and SUVs.”
If the review has a familiar ring, that’s because The Vindicator has dedicated countless news stories, editorials and columns in the past year to the uncertain future of the GM’s Lordstown complex. Changing consumer tastes are driving this uncertainty.
Indeed, the deafening silence emanating from the executive suite of the automaker’s headquarters in Detroit adds to our anxiety about the 51-year-old assembly and fabricating plants.
General Motors has been a major contributor to this region’s well-being, and although employment at the Lords- town complex has gone from a high of more than 10,000 to less than 4,000 today, the company’s departure would be devastating, both economically and psychologically.
No word from the top
That’s why we have urged – to no avail, unfortunately – GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra to issue a public statement about the automaker’s plans for its Lordstown complex.
Barra’s silence has led to wild speculation.
But what is not open to interpretation is the fact the once best-selling Chevrolet Cruze that’s built in the Valley ran out of gas, in a manner of speaking, in 2017.
Sales of the compact car were so soft that GM eliminated the third shift, resulting in the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in the complex and hundreds in companies that supply parts for the Cruze.
But it wasn’t just the third shift that suffered the effects of the Cruze’s decline. Production in the Lordstown assembly and fabricating plants was suspended for more than 10 weeks in 2017 and already has been down for two weeks this year.
In her analysis of auto manufacturing in the Valley last year, Vindicator Business Writer Kalea Hall found that December was the eighth-consecutive month of declining Cruze sales.
There were 10,497 cars sold last month, compared with 15,361 in December 2016 – a drop of 31.6 percent.
Adding in the Cruze hatchback that’s built in Mexico, sales were 13,406 in December 2017 compared with 17,324 in December 2016 – a decline of 22.6 percent.
The annual sales figures for the Lords- town Cruze are as follows: 151,026 in 2017; 184,044 in 2016.
It should be clear by now that any attempt by the company to put a positive spin on what occurred last year will be met with public derision.
As to the notion that sales of the Cruze could get a boost if economic incentives were offered, consider this reporting by BBC News from the Detroit Auto Show:
“Carmakers are focusing on pickup trucks and SUVs as they seek to counter falling sales in the US.
“Sales of new vehicles in the world’s second-largest market dropped 2% last year to 17.2 million, the first fall since 2009.
“This year is expected to see another fall in sales, but carmakers hope a focus on the American stalwarts of pickups and SUVs will help.
“Pickup trucks tend to enjoy more robust sales and have higher profit margins.”
Ignorance about the future of GM’s Lordstown complex is not bliss. CEO Barra and her management team owe the Mahoning Valley, which has been unstinting in its support of the company, the unvarnished truth about the future.