When the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, went dark last year, it was a familiar one in the history of the region. Yet another manufacturing powerhouse — one of the pillars of the local economy and a rare source of good jobs has been turning off.
But the closure of the plant was not the end of the story. The factory was sold to Lordstown Motors, a start-up building an electric pickup truck that is scheduled to be unveiled on Thursday.
And now Lordstown is a symbol of the industry-wide shift to electric vehicles, and the north-east of the Ohio, in hopes of batteries economic recovery.
Carter Eugene Adams for NPR
Steve Burns, the chief executive officer of Lordstown Motors, said that the company has ambitious plans to eventually hire thousands of people to return to the factory. But one of the points of sale of electric vehicles — their simplicity — also means they require less of the human hand to assemble them.
“Just another shot’
At its peak, the General Motors plant in Lordstown bustled with more than 10,000 workers. The vast car parks were full.
Youngstown native Frances Turnage worked at the plant for more than three decades, from 1972, doing everything from assembly to welding. She said that the work was difficult, but the pay and benefits for unionized employees, the auto worker has far exceeded the other jobs in the area.
Over the decades, she has seen the processing plant.
“I looked around one day and I saw a lot of the works were empty and have been replaced by robots,” she said. “He got lonely. I really have to go there and make fun of it … talking to robots, you know, because it was all that I had to speak sometimes. ”
She retired well before GM shuttered the plant, but still wept at the decision. “It was just a sudden “, she said, for a region that had already lost many jobs.
She followed the news about Lordstown plans for the installation. Like a lot of people in the community, she wants the best.
“Oh, I hope it works out,” she said. “I pray that it works. “
Rebooting and reprogramming
Inside the factory, the teams have worked for months to convert assembly lines designed for the Chevrolet Cruze sedan with a gasoline engine in the engine so they could build a truck powered by batteries in place.
Pickup trucks are popular and profitable, and several auto manufacturers are racing to bring electric versions of the market within the next year. Tesla, which has led the industry-wide trend towards electrification, the Cybertruck. Ford is the electrification of the F-150 and GM’s new Hummer electric pickup. Then there are the startups: Nikola, Rivian and Bollinger, as well as Lordstown Engines.
George Syrianoudis, who worked in the GM plant for more than 30 years, retired when GM stop but jumped on the opportunity to come back and work on the modernization of the equipment. Earlier this spring, it was to feed into the robots back up to confirm that they still work.
“If something does not work, the good thing is, we have a lot of robots that we’re not going to need,” he says.
Large portions of the great manufacturing plant are walled off, the cold and the dark to save energy. The occasional worker passing through on a bike — the plant is 6 million square feet, or more than 100 football fields.
A large part of the machinery for the Cruze can be resized or rescheduled for the work of the Endurance collection. But you just can’t make the change. The battery of the line should be built from scratch, and the old motor from the line is completely irrelevant.
Instead of an internal combustion engine, the Endurance, pick-up truck is designed with four electric hub motors — that is, a built-in motor in each of the four wheels.
Fewer moving parts
All electric vehicles are simple compared to a gas-or diesel-powered cars. But the Endurance is simple, even for an electric vehicle, CEO Burns said.
“This vehicle has four moving parts,” said Burns, compared to hundreds or thousands of dollars for a typical vehicle. “You can’t always get easier as the only moving parts are the wheels. ”
This means a reduction of labour costs — that is to say, less jobs.
This is a part of a much broader trend in the industry, said Kristin Dziczek, the vice-president of workforce, economic and manufacturing Center for Automotive Research. Think of Frances Turnage, talk to him about robotics neighbours.
“The reduction of complexity, improvement of the productivity of the vehicle manufacturing by introducing more automation in the process, there will be less people for the construction of vehicles, in the future, regardless of what they are building,” she said.
But even a small number of jobs, would be preferable to a totally empty factory.
“General Motors pulling out, has been terrible. Lost half of my business, ” said Earl Ross, Jr, whose family owns and operates a pub just across the street from the plant.
After the “renaissance” to Lordstown Motors, he hopes to ” better days to come. ”
It is difficult to start a new auto company in the best of circumstances, and now Lordstown Motors is grappling with a recession. Still, the local community is hoping that, in the end, this will be battery success story.