Tenn. plant could close in next GM cuts


April 10, 2009

Tenn. plant could close in next GM cuts

Sen. Corker campaigns to save factory


WASHINGTON — When the cuts come — and they’re coming — there’s every reason to believe General Motors Corp.’s Spring Hill, Tenn., plant could be on the chopping block, whether politics plays a role in the decision or not.

This week, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee continued his campaign to keep Spring Hill open, saying if politics is left out of the equation by the Obama administration, as he hopes, the plant and its 3,000 workers should survive.

The evidence to the contrary is significant.

GM’s earlier restructuring plan called for eliminating another 47,000 jobs and closing five plants by 2012. President Barack Obama told GM it needed to cut deeper to get more federal help.

"Does Spring Hill have something to worry about? Yeah," said James Rubenstein, a geography professor at Miami University in Ohio who specializes in auto plant site selection. "If you look at a map, the farther away from Michigan, the more vulnerable" a plant is.

The former Saturn plant at Spring Hill has some advantages. Chief among them is that it’s home to the Chevy Traverse, GM’s best-selling midsize crossover vehicle.

But a newer plant in Lansing is already producing three other vehicles on that same platform. And Lansing is much closer to suppliers than Tennessee.

Add to that the fact that larger trucks, SUVs and CUVs like the Traverse could take a hit if Obama’s auto team demands a more aggressive move to fuel-efficient sedans.

Asked if Spring Hill is vulnerable, auto analyst Erich Merkle of Grand Rapids said, "There’s no question."

In recent weeks, Corker has been extolling the virtues of Spring Hill, in a news release, in a newspaper column, in interviews. He says he isn’t pushing for the plant to stay open if it hurts GM’s future — but that it should keep operating if, as he contends, it’s an asset.

In fairness to Corker, Obama already has gone so far as to force GM’s Rick Wagoner out as CEO. But there’s no indication the White House intends to decide specifically which plants stay open or close — or that if it does so, politics, such as whether a state voted for Obama or not or the sway of a given state’s congressional delegation with the administration, would play a role.

An administration official dismissed the notion this week.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it’s more likely members of Congress will try to protect plants in their districts through earmarks or legislation.

"Corker’s just assuming the president is doing what he would do," she said. "The president has wider concerns."

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