General Motors has announced plans to close three assembly plants, one in Michigan, Ohio and the other in Ontario before the end of 2019.
I can not help but think about the launch of the Chevrolet Volt.
This car has been my life for months. I've covered General Motors for the Detroit Free Press after bankruptcy – I'm doing a business chronicle all day, every day. Sometimes all night. That's how important GM was to our city.
In December 2010, I traveled to snowy New Jersey to watch a real estate agent buy the first Volt. The people I met along the way expressed exuberant expectations for the car. "Futuristic." "Come back kid." "A signal." "The first car of General Motors."
The Volt, an electric car with an emergency engine for long journeys, was to revitalize GM. Show the world Detroit could create a revolutionary technology, compete with Asian automakers, produce something other than energy-hungry SUVs. Prove that the government-backed rescue plan was worth it.
In many ways, the Volt was also supposed to save Detroit. The last site of the company located within the boundaries of Motor City would build the vehicle.
The most reputable American manufacturer would call on American workers to build a new type of American vehicle.
This dream is over now, probably for good.
"Bring back jobs"
On Monday, GM launched plans to shut down five plants, including the Detroit plant that built the Chevy Volt and the Ohio plant that built the Chevrolet Cruze compact car. This will kill those cars and a few others after the closing of the assembly lines. Thousands of American workers are at risk of losing their jobs, factories closing their doors and suppliers of spare parts, transport workers, etc. assembly plants.
We know what it looks like in this country. We have seen it before.
Just ask the American workers who voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Or take my word for it: I asked them myself, again and again, as a political reporter covering Ohio during this campaign.
Trump promised to bring back jobs, when nobody else wanted him. It acted as if the economy was in trouble, when other politicians (and journalists who verified the facts, including this one) touted the low unemployment rate. More than that, he understood the desperation felt by the workers when their new job did not pay as their old job. The fear they felt when they were thinking of starting over at 60 years old.
Trump won Michigan in part thanks to these workers. He won Ohio by a landslide for the same reason. Trumbull County has voted Democrats at almost every election since 1928. In 2016, the county supported Trump.
And now, Trumbull County is losing its car factory.
This is a problem for Trump. For the moment, he is channeling the anger, the kind of anger with which the workers were connected in 2016.
"They'd better open a new plant there very quickly," Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Monday, citing the closure of the plant in Lordstown, Ohio. "I told them," You play with the wrong person. ""
What will happen when workers are unemployed?
More General Motors:
General Motors to close Detroit, Ohio, Canada factories
The closure of Hamtramck's GM plant revives an old controversy in Detroit
Missed targets and new electric car
In the end, the Americans did not want small cars. Or while gasoline prices have dropped, electric cars.
When I covered GM, the then CEO, Dan Akerson, said he wanted the company to manufacture more than 100,000 Chevy Volts a year. The company missed this goal from the beginning; privately, GM employees admitted that this was never realistic. Last year, sales in the United States barely passed the 20,000 mark.
"There is no scenario in which the Volt, as estimable as it is, will make a material contribution to GM's fortune for many years," wrote Steven Rattner, former head of the automotive working group of the United States. the Obama administration, in his 2010 book, "Overhaul." Even this tough prediction was too generous.
GM now has a new electric car: the Chevy Bolt, built in the northern suburbs of Detroit. In a way, it keeps alive the dream that the Volt started.
The Bolt lacks the backup engine of the Volt. GM engineers thought this engine would help conventional car consumers to accept an electric vehicle.
It turned out that traditional car buyers would never buy a Volt, period. Plus, in the Bolt, you can drive up to 238 miles with electrical power, so you're less likely to need the engine. Nevertheless, GM sold only 23,000 bolts last year.
Innovation in the US automotive industry has taken a different direction. The Lake Orion plant should produce a self-driving car next year. Once again, GM is betting that American workers can make a new type of American car.
Wall Street analysts say GM is on track – and it is important to maintain the company's profitability and maintain its inventory at a reasonable price. That's the ultimate job of CEO Mary Barra. On Monday, she opted for a difficult and painful cost reduction instead of keeping historic factories and avoiding layoffs.
Before the bankruptcy, GM did not change strategy enough or quickly abandoned his beloved but obsolete ideas. Barra wants his general manager to be different. She wants it to stay.
Acquisition of history?
Longevity – preserving an American icon – has always been part of GM's turnaround. But it's more than that.
"The work is spiritual for me," said Mark Reuss, General Manager at GM, in early 2010, when I was working for Automotive News.
Reuss, who then ran the company's operations in North America, had suffered more than his share of GM's heartbreak. His father, former GM president, Lloyd Reuss, was fired during a coup in 1992. Mark Reuss stayed with the company, only to see her continue to wade and, finally, demand a government bailout to avoid closure in 2009.
After the automaker's bankruptcy that year, Mark Reuss went to the ruins of the Buick City factory complex in Flint with his son. Lloyd Reuss had headed Buick from the complex and Mark Reuss had started his career there.
The youngest Reuss asked, "Why did this happen, dad?"
"I finally turned to my son and told him:" It happened because we could not compete, "Reuss told his audience." I've never thought these words could come from my mouth. "
For Reuss, at least, GM's turnaround offered a chance to buy back the story. To provide a livelihood for American workers, building vehicles they could be proud of. Use the prosperity of a business to invest in a US city.
Perhaps we should have expected layoffs of thousands of American workers. But that was not part of the plan.
Chrissie Thompson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is the editor-in-chief of education at USA TODAY. Previously, she had covered the auto industry for the Detroit Free Press and Politics for Cincinnati Enquirer.
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