GM’s announcement that it will close the Detroit Poletown plant calls corporate incentives into question. Mike Thompson, Detroit Free Press
General Motors and the UAW will make a major announcement Friday morning at GM’s Orion Assembly Plant in Lake Orion.
The 4.3 million-square foot plant, which employs about 1,166 people, builds the Chevrolet Bolt electric car and Cruise self-driving test vehicles.
In a media advisory issued Thursday, GM said its leaders, along with UAW Vice President Terry Dittes and federal, state and local officials will announce a “major new investment focused on development of GM future technologies.”
The news comes as GM faces harsh criticism over its plan to idle five plants in North America this year and early next year, affecting some 6,200 jobs. GM has said the cuts are part of a broader restructuring that included 8,000 white-collar cuts and will save it $2.5 billion this year.
Two of those plants are in Michigan: Detroit-Hamtramck, which idles in January 2020, and Warren Transmission, slated to idle this year.
But the one to take the media spotlight this past weekend was GM’s Lordstown Assembly in Ohio, which ended Chevrolet Cruze production earlier this month.
President Donald Trump unleashed a series of tweets critical of GM for idling the plant and urging GM reopen Lordstown, which had built the Cruze until March 6.
GM has made other recent investments in its plants. Last month, GM said it will put $20 million into its Romulus propulsion plant in suburban Detroit to increase the plant’s capacity for future 10-speed transmission production. Romulus currently builds V6 engines and 10-speed transmissions used in several GM cars, trucks and crossovers. GM’s Orion Assembly builds the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt used for testing its GM Cruise self-driving fleet. The day before, GM said it would spend $36 million at its Lansing Delta Township plant for future crossover production. That plant builds the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave SUVs.
On Tuesday this week, GM said it plans to invest $2.7 billion in two of its plants in Brazil over the next five years.
Workers and politicians have been angered that GM will build its revived Chevy Blazer SUV in Mexico and is not assigning new vehicles to U.S. plants. Building robo-cars
GM builds the electric Bolt, used for GM’s autonomous cars, at Orion. GM sold 18,019 Bolts in 2018, down 22.7 percent from 2017. Still, the cars are important to GM, which has said it envisions an “all electric” future one day.
It is also making a big play in self-driving cars, having vowed to bring the robot cars to a major metro market in the form of ride-hailing sometime this year.
GM bought GM Cruise, its self-driving car unit, in 2016. It was a 40-person start-up in San Francisco. Today, GM Cruise employs more than 1,000 people and is valued at more than 10 times the $1 billion GM paid for it. Employment at Cruise is expected to double in the next year.
GM’s investment in robot cars is massive. In June 2018, SoftBank, a large technology investment company with stakes in such companies as Uber, said it was investing $2.25 billion in GM Cruise and GM will invest $1.1 billion in it. General Motors and Honda have announced a partnership to develop an autonomous vehicle for Cruise. More: Honda to join GM, Cruise in building a robot car
Then, in October 2018, Honda said it would invest $2.75 billion in Cruise over 12 years to fund and develop a “purpose-built” self-driving car for Cruise that can serve a “wide variety of use cases and be manufactured at high volume for global deployment,” GM said.
Federal regulators this month asked for public comment on GM’s proposal to put fully autonomous cars — with no steering wheels or pedals — on public streets.
GM wants “exemptions from U.S. vehicle safety rules largely written decades ago that assume human drivers would always be in control of a vehicle,” Reuters reported. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration will take public comment for 60 days “on a detailed list of questions about the issues surrounding deploying vehicles without human controls.”