There’s a case to be made for GM’s Lordstown plant

It’s easy to get discouraged about the future of General Motors’ Lordstown plant, given the giant automaker’s failure to assign another model to replace the once top-selling Chevrolet Cruze.

GM will discontinue production of the Cruze next month and will idle the 52-year-old assembly complex.

Nonetheless, we choose to remain optimistic because the company cannot credibly argue that the plant has outlived its usefulness. The history of Lordstown is replete with stories of building high quality, technologically advanced, affordable cars.

We may be grasping at straws, but the company’s decision to idle – and not shutter – the complex is an opportunity for the region to make a bid for a new product.

Hence, we unequivocally support the “Drive It Home” campaign launched by United Autoworkers Local 1112 and the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber.

Today’s edition of The Vindicator features a full-page “Drive It Home” poster that we urge our readers to display prominently at their homes and businesses.

The poster is just one aspect of the campaign to persuade GM not to close the Lordstown plant and to assign a new product to replace the Cruze.

Long-time readers of The Vindicator will remember that the newspaper played a similar role in a campaign two decades ago to prevent GM from picking up stakes after the Chevrolet Cavalier had run its course.

GM had announced that it was launching the Chevrolet Cobalt, but also said it was considering several plants around the country to build the compact car.

The chamber and UAW Locals 1112 and 1714 created the “Bring It Home” campaign to demonstrate to GM decision-makers that the region was ready, willing and able to meet all the demands of the company.

The success of the Chevy Cavalier – not unlike the success of the Cobalt and the Cruze – was a major selling point because it demonstrated the quality of the workforce and the exceptional labor-management relations.

Economic incentives

It is instructive that an economic incentive package submitted by the state of Ohio to GM was far superior to those from other states. The state’s bid gave the Lordstown plant the edge in the high-stakes contest for the Cobalt.

GM invested hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the plant, which put the onus on labor and management to deliver a top-notch vehicle.

The Cobalt exceeded all expectations. It consistently ranked high for quality and was one of GM’s best-selling cars.

The success of the Cobalt was a key factor in the company’s decision to assign the Chevy Cruze to the Lordstown plant.

Once again, labor and management came through with flying colors. The Cruze’s top ratings for quality and safety, its comparatively low per-unit manufacturing cost and its competitive price tag made it a highly sought vehicle.

But a couple of years ago, demand for the Cruze and other sedans began to decline as the popularity of trucks, SUVs and crossovers skyrocketed.

The softening sales hit the Lordstown plant hard. GM eliminated the third shift in January 2017, the second shift in June 2018, and the third shift will be gone next month. In all, 4,000 high-paying union jobs will be lost, in addition to 300 or so management positions.

In announcing the idling of the plant, the automaker said the 52-year-old complex will be designated as “unallocated,” which means there is no other product to replace the Cruze.

Three other American plants and one in Canada also are being idled.

As the “Drive It Home” campaign picks up steam, there’s a compelling reason for GM to change its mind:

The company’s fourth-quarter earnings showed that the giant automaker performed better than Wall Street expected.

While CEO Mary Barra is being credited with GM raking in $38.4 billion – compared with the $36.48 projected by Wall Street – we would argue that the financial turnaround is directly related to the federal bailout orchestrated by former Democratic President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.

We strongly supported Washington’s intervention with tax dollars to prevent GM and Chrysler from going under.

Without a bailout, the companies would have been forced to seek bankruptcy protection from the courts.

It is our firm belief that GM owes the people of the Mahoning Valley a debt of gratitude for their loyalty and their support. It can repay the debt by assigning another product to the Lordstown plant.

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