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End of car production at GM Lordstown alarming

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Complete Lordstown coverage

By refusing to use the word “shutdown” to describe what has occurred at its Lordstown assembly complex, General Motors is perpetrating a cruel hoax on the people of the Mahoning Valley.

The giant automaker, which has been an integral part of this region for 53 years, has ended production of the Chevrolet Cruze, and has not assigned another product to replace it.

Yet, CEO Mary Barra chooses to play word games rather than to tell the truth: GM is expected to inform the United Auto Workers during contract negotiations this summer that it is abandoning the Lordstown plant.

The hardworking, dedicated people of the Valley deserve better than to be kept on tenterhooks.

GM says the plant is being idled, but the fact remains that the last Chevrolet Cruze to be built in the Valley rolled off the assembly line Wednesday, and all car production there has come to an inglorious end.

Only about 200 of the 1,500 or so employees will be retained to make replacement parts.

We warned of this moment back in January 2017 when GM eliminated the third shift – despite the fact that the compact Cruze was selling extremely well and winning top ratings for quality and price.

We noted that while the company laid off 1,200 workers in the region, it announced the investment of $1 billion to upgrade various facilities and retain and create thousands of jobs.

For a while, we held out hope that some of the investment would make its way to Lordstown. But then last summer, GM eliminated the second shift, and with the loss of 1,500 jobs our hope turned to despair.

We urged political, business and community leaders to consider the reality of the plant closing and to explore other uses for it.

Wednesday’s end of car production is an end of an era, regardless of how General Motors tries to spin the bad news.

We have argued in this space ad nauseam that the company cannot justify shutting down the Lordstown plant. The recent history of exemplary worker-management relations stands in stark contrast to the early days of the plant, when labor strife was commonplace. But that was in the past.

High marks

It’s no fluke the recent models of Chevrolet compact cars that came out of Lordstown have not only been top-sellers, but have received high marks for quality, cost and fuel efficiency from J.D. Power and other independent product-rating companies.

In fact, the well-appointed, technologically advanced Cruze was pegged as one of the best-selling vehicles in GM’s fleet. Nonetheless, the company decided to shelve the passenger sedan and concentrate, instead, on trucks, SUVs and crossovers that have much higher profit margins.

While we’re all in favor of keeping hope alive – this week’s “True Blue” community lobbying effort, along with the “Drive It Home” campaign launched by UAW Local 1112 and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber have our unwavering support – we recognize the need to contemplate a future without GM.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently conveyed such a message to Valley officials when he revealed that the giant automaker is “involved in actively looking for another company” to take over the Lordstown complex.

DeWine met with Barra and members of her executive team shortly after he took office in January and came away with the distinct impression that GM has decided to padlock the assembly plant.

Given such firsthand knowledge, we were disappointed the governor did not use his State of the State address Tuesday to spotlight GM’s decision to turn its back on the Valley.

DeWine should have reiterated his administration’s pledge to do whatever is necessary to persuade Barra and her advisers to assign another product to Lordstown.

It also would have been reassuring to hear the Republican governor pledge that state government will launch an aggressive search for a replacement if GM pulls up stakes.

The goal should be to ensure that the massive Lordstown complex does not remain empty very long.

We are well aware of the state’s role in attracting another auto-related operation to the closed GM plant in Moraine, but it took five years.

The Valley, which has not fully recovered from the demise of big steel production more than 40 years ago, cannot wait years before the Lordstown facility is humming again.

It’s time for a full-court press by the Valley, the state and President Donald Trump, who promised to revive the auto and steel industries in this region.