Lordstown, Ohio has been home to one of GM’s fifteen worldwide assembly facilities since 1966. Tens of millions of cars and vans have rolled off the production line in that time, including Caprices, Firebirds, and Vanduras.
Going back to the Vega, Lordstown has produced several generations of GM compact cars, including the infamous J-body Cavalier, Sunfire, Skyhawk, and the successive Delta platform Cobalt/G5 and current Chevrolet Cruze. At its peak, the plant employed as many as 16,000 Ohioans.
On Wednesday, the long standing plant will grind to a halt and sit quiet for the first time in 53 years. In corporate lingo, the plant has been unallocated. That’s just a fancy word that means thousands of people will lose their jobs.
“Quite frankly it’s extremely difficult right now. The company has put an extraordinarily large amount of stress on our members, and let’s face it, the people in our communities,” UAW president Dave Green told the Youngstown Vindicator. “I’ve talked to teachers and business owners who are saying ‘What are we going to do?’ It feels like we’re playing poker and making a huge bet, but we can’t look at our cards.”
This week, just 1500 employees remain in the plant to keep the last of the production line humming. Before the November 26th plant closure announcement about 300 employees took a buyout and left for what they hoped were greener pastures. Since then, The Vindicator reports, another 400 have walked.
GM says the plant is on the chopping block because it is specifically outfitted to assemble small cars. There is currently a “ground track” system in place to move cars throughout the production facility instead of the overhead arm moving system employed in more modern plants. The arms are less expensive and easier to change, making those modern plants more modular.
As we all know, small cars are out, and big ones are in. It would be costly for GM to convert Youngstown Assembly. Instead, it’s more cost effective to leave 6.2 million square feet of facility to gather dust.
The Cruze has sold nearly two million units in the U.S. market since it was introduced in 2010, and received a facelift for the 2019 model year. The same car is also produced in China, South Korea, Argentina, and Mexico. The car will continue to be a part of the GM lineup, just produced elsewhere, presumably at lower cost.
Lordstown residents aren’t exactly sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. Despite the economic depression that comes with thousands of residents losing their jobs, the area is already planning for the future, having recently opened two electric power plants and a TJX Homegoods distribution center is moving in. Will it be enough?