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Despite hope, Lordstown GM not reopening

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said during a recent stop in Youngstown he’s “still holding out” hope General Motors will place its own electric vehicle at the idled Lordstown facility.

State Rep. Gil Blair, D-Weathersfield, said, “My preference is to bring back a GM product. The possibility of it happening is better than people think.”

While Brown, Blair and others are seeking what amounts to a miracle, GM CEO Mary Barra has made it clear the company doesn’t have plans for a new GM product at the local plant. GM officials say they are negotiating with the Lordstown Motors Corp. to sell the facility to that new company.

GM is planning to manufacture about 20 electric vehicles by 2023, and Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, said he hoped “one of them could end up in Lordstown. There’s no reason it couldn’t. It would be minimal retooling” for a car with a similar size as the discontinued Chevrolet Cruze that was assembled there.

GM has retooled the plant several times over the years.

“We don’t give up hope that they will … that these negotiations (with the United Auto Workers) can bear some fruit,” Brown said.

The UAW contract was set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, and the union has called for its officials to meet today.

But whatever the outcome of the union negotiations, GM isn’t putting a new line at the Lordstown facility.

And that’s unfortunate.

The 53-year-old Lordstown complex employed about 4,500 people as recently as three years ago and about 15,000 workers at its peak.

It was down to 1,500 workers when the plant closed earlier this year with most accepting transfers to other GM facilities throughout the country.

The Cruze — and before it, the Cobalt — is an excellent vehicle. My wife and I currently drive Cruzes and previously owned a pair of Cobalts.

While the Cruze and Cobalt both sold well during their run, declining gas prices and people’s preference for larger vehicles, especially SUVs, made sedans an afterthought in the auto industry.

Michael Aurilio, UAW Local 1112 recording secretary, told me, “The Cruze was selling well, and it seems like GM went out of its way to kill it.”

GM didn’t market the car well — or at all in some parts of the country.

Aurilio said there’s a “slim chance” GM will put a new line in to replace the Cruze, but he’s “not really optimistic.”

If it doesn’t sell to Lordstown Motors Corp., GM “may sit on it for three or four years and reopen the plant,” Aurilio said.

Brown and several top government officials in the state have met and spoken with Barra several times.

Brown said in June after meeting with Barra that she “doesn’t want to create false hopes” about the company reopening the Lordstown facility.

Also in June, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnati-area Republican, said, “We continue to have questions about GM’s decision to close the plant instead of bringing production of one of its 20 new electric vehicles there. My first choice remains for GM to reinvest in Lordstown, but we also need to hear more about this proposal to sell the plant” and “whether it will work.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said the state is ready to offer a financial package to the Lordstown Motors Corp. to open at the idled GM plant if it can raise the money — about $300 million to $500 million — to buy the facility and get it operating.

“Their job at this point is to go out and raise the money,” he said during a recent stop in Boardman.

That’s a lot easier said than done, and Lordstown Motors Corp. officials remain largely silent on its plans to buy the GM plant and build electric vehicles there.

Meanwhile, a once-mighty auto plant sits empty — and like the former steel mills that have since been demolished, it serves as a symbol of what the Mahoning Valley was.

Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and Vindicator edition.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com