Spring Hill plant may get other GM work

July 7, 2009

Spring Hill plant may get other GM work

Plant’s flexibility fits shift to lighter vehicles

By G. Chambers Williams III

There could be new life for http://www.gm.com/">General Motors’ Spring Hill assembly plant after all, despite a streak of bad news at the Middle Tennessee facility that has left nearly 2,900 workers fearful of losing their jobs after November, when production of the Chevrolet Traverse moves to Michigan.

Some auto industry analysts now have started to speculate that Spring Hill could become the manufacturing site of the next generation of the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon midsize pickup trucks, the next-generation Cadillac Escalade or a car-based pickup similar to the Chevrolet Avalanche.

An unofficial GM news Web site, http://www.gminsidenews.com/">gminsidenews.com, has reported that the next generation of the large Cadillac Escalade SUV could be built here after it is redesigned, based on the so-called Lambda architecture, basically a lighter, more fuel-efficient design used for cars rather than the body-on-frame design of truck products.

"Spring Hill would be the obvious place for GM to assemble any new Lambda models," including the Escalade and any pickups that might be designed that way, said George Peterson, president of the industry consulting firm AutoPacific.

The Lambda design already serves as the underpinning of the Chevrolet Traverse crossover, which Spring Hill has been making for more than a year.

It "already is a Lambda plant, so it makes sense to keep Spring Hill as a manufacturing site for Lambda-based vehicles," Peterson said.

GM officials, however, called the reports "just speculation," and declined to discuss any possible future for the plant, which is losing production of the Chevy Traverse crossover to Lansing, Mich., later this year. Spring Hill also lost out to Orion Township, Mich., last month as GM’s preferred site for production of a new small car.

"This has been an extremely difficult time for the company as we reorganize, but we’re not in a position to comment on any of the speculation," said Dan Flores, a labor and manufacturing spokesman for GM.

United Auto Workers union officials here said they’ve heard reports of possible new products for Spring Hill, but said they’re not sure what the future holds.

"Our members have … been asking about it," said Mike Herron, chairman of http://www.uawlocal1853.org/">UAW Local 1853, which represents Spring Hill hourly workers.

"We had a union meeting about it, and I told them I can’t confirm anything. But I do like the idea. It would be good for Spring Hill."

GM’s nearly $1 billion revamping of the Spring Hill plant in 2007 and 2008 was designed to create a flexible assembly line that the automaker said would be able to build multiple products at the same time.

While the facility did lose a bid to become the production site for a new Chevrolet subcompact car, the latest suggestions of possible new products could bring the facility back to life after GM ends production and puts the plant "on standby" in November.

Some analysts continue to think Spring Hill’s flexibility will pay off in the long run.

"They could certainly do a pickup and crossover SUV on the same line," said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com, a consumer-oriented Web site that tracks the auto industry.

"That would be taking a page out of the flexible-assembly-line book."

GM’s Lansing plant, known as Delta Township, already assembles the GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave and Saturn Outlook crossovers, which are built on the same Lambda design as the Traverse.

GM manufacturing spokesman Chris Lee would not comment on any redesign of the carmaker’s slow-selling Colorado and Canyon pickups, which are assembled at GM’s Shreveport, La., plant, along with the Hummer H3 SUV and pickup.

"The only official news is that after November, Spring Hill is scheduled to go on standby status, when Traverse production is moved to Lansing. That has not changed," Lee said.

Union remains hopeful

GM has announced that it will close the Shreveport plant by mid-2012 or sooner. GM is selling the Hummer brand to a Chinese equipment manufacturer.

But if the Canyon and Colorado vehicles continue in the GMC and Chevrolet lineups as expected, they’ll have to be assembled somewhere else.

Lee would not speculate on where that might be, or even discuss whether the two models would be continued.

Herron said the union hopes for some new product in Spring Hill and thinks the plant is so efficient that it could handle whatever GM wants to make there. "I’m very optimistic for the future of this facility," Herron said.

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