Lordstown Motors, Hyperion See Valley as ‘Epicenter’ for Electric Vehicles

WARREN, Ohio – If a deal can be completed to acquire the General Motors Lordstown Complex, Lordstown Motors has its eyes set on starting production by the end of 2020, the company’s CEO said Tuesday.

Negotiations are ongoing, said Steve Burns, and have been muddied recently by the United Auto Workers’ national strike against GM. Lordstown Motors has been in talks with the Detroit automaker since early this summer to acquire the 6.2 million-square-foot plant. 

The company is “at the ready to do it and we expect to” take over the plant, Burns said. 

“We are designing trucks that can be built in that plant. We’re assuming we’re going to get it, but it’s not 100%,” he said. “It’s used to building smaller vehicles and we’re going to build full-size pickup trucks. We don’t feel there are any pinch points there.”

Beyond just an assembly line at the plant, the startup automaker also envisions an “epicenter” in the Mahoning Valley that would include the company’s headquarters, from sales to human resources to some engineering positions.

“Every person won’t work it, but it will be the majority. This will be our headquarters,” Burns said. “We want to build an epicenter here: wire harnesses, motors, battery cells and all the new components. We want those in our building if possible. We’re not just bringing a vehicle to Lordstown that can run its five-year course.”

Should a deal with GM not come to fruition, the company remains committed to building its product here.

“Our company name is Lordstown Motors Corp., so we’ll either have to buy a town out in the desert and name it Lordstown or do something here,” he said with a laugh. “The workforce is here, so we have to be here.”

Burns made his comments ahead of the keynote panel at the Energy Storage Building Efficiency conference hosted by Brite Energy Innovators, formerly Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center, Tuesday at Packard Music Hall. Joining Burns were Hyperion Motors CEO Angelo Kafantaris and Tesla business development manager Tiara Thurston.

For Hyperion, which two weeks ago signed a partnership agreement with Brite to bring some engineering operations to Warren, the move here resulted from a similar motive, said Kafantaris, a Warren native who founded the company in Los Angeles. The company is developing electric cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

“If we develop these things here, we can keep them forever. It’s not just developing technology. If we do that here, whether with us or Lordstown Motors or even someone like Tesla, we can build a hub of people who are familiar with the electric powertrain,” he said. “If you have expertise, you can bring more talent together and that builds an ecosystem that doesn’t require you to go to California to pursue your passion.”

Also a driving factor is the ecosystem around the automotive industry that exists here, from the supply chain to the workforce.

“There is a supply chain that’s already in existence, not just from GM but also from many other companies,” he continued. “That’s something that’s going to need new projects. … We can take advantage of the supply chain, of experienced workers and there’s a lot of talent over here that we can develop.”

Likewise, for Lordstown Motors, the existing infrastructure was a draw after the initial conversations with General Motors about the plant here, Burns added.

“What attracted us was the plant, but the workforce and people are the secret weapon,” he said. “A lot of people are available and they have the skillset to do the work. It’s very difficult to find that in quantity.”

Burns pointed to Tesla’s repurposing of a former Toyota plant in California to build its cars, which not only retained workforce numbers at the plant, but increased them. Lordstown Motors is aiming to do something similar with the Lordstown Complex, he said. Noting the current contract discussions between GM and the UAW, he said his company plans to use union labor at the plant, although no discussions have taken place.

While not a startup like the other two companies represented at the panel discussion hosted by City Club of the Mahoning Valley, Tesla is nonetheless excited about new players in the electric vehicles field, Thurston said.

“The biggest misperception in the marketplace is that we’re trying to put competitors out of business. [Founder Elon Musk’s] core mission is to transition the world to sustainable energy,” she said. “As we sit here and talk about an electric pickup truck that’s built in the Midwest that can bring jobs to communities that can benefit from this technology, that excites him. Tesla’s really trying to achieve sustainability at all levels.”

While Lordstown Motors has a definite plan for starting production – test cars will be hitting the road in the coming months – Hyperion is still preparing to unveil its first model. Two prototypes have been built and two more are on the way. They are expected to be shown to the public for the first time early next year, Kafantaris said. Those vehicles will eventually likely include other technologies working alongside electric power.

“Autonomous vehicles are one component of the future of technology. I believe that for hydrogen, that’s where we excel because these can run 24/7, unlike battery cars that need time to charge,” he said. “The critical question is what other technologies can we tie in. It’s autonomous and other things that we can’t talk about yet, but some really exciting stuff.”

Pictured: At the keynote panel of Brite Energy Innovators’ Energy Storage Building Efficiency conference were Tesla business development manager Tiara Thurston, Hyperion Motors CEO Angelo Kafantaris and Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns. City Club of Cleveland CEO Dan Moulthrop moderated.

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