Politics

Lawmakers Question Barra About Lordstown’s Future

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A delegation of federal lawmakers from Ohio met Wednesday with General Motors CEO Mary Barra and left with more questions than answers over the fate of the company’s Lordstown plant.

“Not as productive as we hoped,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown told reporters during a conference call shortly after he, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan met with Barra in Washington. “Rob and I want to see GM in this plant,” the state’s Democratic senator said.

Portman, a Republican, said in a statement that the meeting was part of the two senators’ efforts to persuade GM to award a new product to the Lordstown plant.

“We will continue to fight for the workers in the Mahoning Valley who dedicated their lives to making Lordstown an award-winning plant,” Portman said. 

The last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off Lordstown’s assembly line March 6, ending 53 years of vehicle production at the plant and eliminating the remaining 1,500 workers there. GM is in discussions with Cincinnati-based Workhorse Inc. and a related entity it’s forming to purchase the facility. Workhorse is looking to build electric trucks at the plant but needs millions of dollars in financing.

“We continue to have questions about GM’s decision to close the plant instead of bringing production of one of its 20 electric vehicles there,” Portman said.  “My first choice remains for GM to reinvest in Lordstown, but we need to hear more about this proposal to sell the plant to Workhorse and whether it will work.”

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said he was disheartened to hear Barra express pessimism about putting a new GM product at Lordstown. Still, the congressman added she shared her confidence in GM’s plan to sell the plant and return it to productivity building electric vehicles.

“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions that need to be addressed before I can feel confident that the new buyer for the plant will end up providing as many jobs as GM Lordstown once did when it was running three shifts,” Ryan said. 

Brown called Workhorse a “good company,” but one that is insufficient in providing a workforce the size of GM Lordstown. In 2017, there were 4,500 employed at the plant working three shifts; the senator said that Workhorse would employ about 400. 

In early May, President Donald Trump tweeted that GM would sell the plant to Workhorse shortly after the two companies conversed. However, analysts remain skeptical whether a small company such as Workhorse and another unnamed entity has the financial wherewithal to purchase Lordstown and produce vehicles there.

Brown said he didn’t know what Workhorse would need to make the venture successful. He did say that GM entertained more than a dozen companies that expressed interest in the plant and thought that the Workhorse proposal was the most viable. 

“This would be up to 400 jobs and would take three years to be up and running fully,” Brown said. 

Brown questioned whether GM would allocate the plant an electric vehicle to build, noting the automaker has plans to manufacture 20 such models by 2023.  “Surely a number of the 20 are sedans,” which he said could easily fit into the Lordstown plant design.

“We know GM could mostly fill this plant with thousands of jobs with an electric vehicle,” he told reporters. “GM Lordstown has the most efficient operation of any assembly plant in GM North America, so these are workers that can do this. This is a community that would embrace GM as they have for 53 years.”

While Brown said he appreciates GM’s efforts to employ those displaced at Lordstown at other plants scattered around the country, company executives fail to recognize the toll this takes on families.  

“They just don’t seem to understand the hardship it has on a family to leave Niles or Girard or Warren or Youngstown or Austintown and move to Indiana or Michigan,” Brown said. He emphasized many have kids in school and many have spouses that work. 

Brown said the senators pressed Barra about GM’s excess capacity around the world and its practice of shipping those vehicles to the United States. “She sort of ignored the question,” he said.  “Her comments were not well received, let’s just leave it at that

As for what comes next, Brown said that Barra pointed to negotiations with the United Auto Workers in September as an important part of Lordstown’s future. 

“They don’t need a new UAW negotiation to announce an electric vehicle and begin to retool that plant,” he said, a process GM has done at other plants. 

Ultimately, Brown said that Barra remained non-committal over Lordstown, telling the lawmakers, “I don’t want to create false hope.

“She’s not saying Lordstown will never produce again,” Brown noted, “but she’s not saying it will, either.”

Related Coverage

May 8: GM in Talks to Sell Lordstown Plant to Electric Truck Maker

May 9: Union Chief, Elected Officials Mixed on Potential Lordstown Sale

May 22: Local Leaders ‘Meet and Greet’ with GM, Workhorse

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.