Editor’s note: Great to see a few thousand workers planned for the reopening of this plant which will make electric pickups. Hopefully this will happen.
Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns has bold plans to fill the 6.2-million-square-foot facility he bought from General Motors last year.
[Jamie L. LaReau | May 22, 2020 | Detroit Free Press]
Those plans include both people and products. The CEO said he will start hiring 600 workers next year to build the first 20,000 Endurance all-electric pickups Lordstown Motors is designing.
Then, starting in 2022, Burns will hire more people to build other all-electric vehicles, such as SUVs and a midsize pickup, he told the Free Press.
“We didn’t buy a mass volume plant like this and not plan to fill it up," Burns said. "This is a gem of a building built for volume manufacturing."
Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns inside the former GM Lordstown Assembly plant which his company purchased and is retooling to make the all-electric Endurance pickup truck. (Photo: Courtesy Lordstown Motors)
Burns expects to employ 4,000 to 5,000 people in the plant in the near future based on demand for electric vehicles, adding, "We think the electric pickup is the new normal.”
Lordstown Motors already has "well over several thousand" pre-orders for the $52,500 Endurance, even before the truck's been revealed, Burns said.
The company was set to reveal the Endurance at the Detroit Auto Show next month, but the show was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. So Lordstown Motors will do a "virtual" reveal instead. Burns is targeting late June to do that, and once he does, he expects to take pre-orders for all 20,000 pickups the automaker will build next year.
'Not taking the plant back'
Just three years ago, Lordstown assembly plant, near Youngstown, Ohio, employed about 4,500 workers making GM's Chevrolet Cruze compact car. In its heyday, in the early 1990s, GM employed about 10,600 people at the plant.
But on March 6, 2019, the last Cruze rolled off the line. Lordstown was one of four U.S. plants GM said it would shutter as it ended production of some of its cars to accommodate shifting consumer tastes to SUVs and pickups. GM's Detroit Hamtramck was supposed to also be one of those four to close, but during UAW contract talks, GM agreed to invest $3 billion in it to make an electric pickup and SUVs there.
Final Chevrolet Cruze in LS trim rolls of the line at GM Lordstown Assembly Plant in Warren, Ohio on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (Photo: Roger Mastroianni, Roger Mastroianni)
Most of the 1,600 workers left at Lordstown last spring were transferred to other GM plants across the country. Then, GM sold the facility to Lordstown Motors. The plant and adjoining five parcels of land sold for $20 million, according to local records.
GM had an option to lease the Lordstown facilities and land as well as the option to repurchase the assets. But GM will not exercise those options, Dan Flores, GM spokesman told the Free Press, adding, "We're not taking the plant back."
The inside of Lordstown Motors assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. It is being retooled to build the all-electric Endurance pickup starting in 2021. (Photo: Courtesy/Lordstown Motors)
Lordstown Motors had retained Cleveland investment bank Brown Gibbons Lang & Co. to help it raise $450 million to retool the plant, Forbes reported last Novemberr, but Burns declined to comment on financials other than to say, "Except for COVID, we’re on course.”
Secret studio in Dearborn
Lordstown Motors presently employs about 70 people, nearly all engineers, some of whom were engineers there when GM owned the plant, Burns said.
Twenty of those engineers work in a secret design studio the company has in Dearborn making clay modelings of the future vehicles.
Lordstown Motors engineers work on designing clay models of the all-electric Endurance pickup. (Photo: Courtesy/Lordstown Motors)
The other 50 engineers are in the plant directing the change-over of the tooling needed to make the Endurance instead of the Cruze, Burns said. They are scrambling because, after the late June reveal of the Endurance, Lordstown Motors has to produce 30 pre-production vehicles by December.
"We’re six months away from that so that is a push," Burns said. "The Endurance is just our first vehicle. The architecture is easy to change for a midsize pickup or an SUV, so we’re trying to accommodate multiple vehicles besides the Endurance" in the future.
The 50 engineers are also designing the production lines to build battery packs and in-wheel motors, both of which will be built in-house along with the vehicle body, Burns said.
On May 12, Lordstown Motors licensed with Elaphe Propulsion Technologies to make the Model L-1500 Endurance In-Wheel Motor, for the pre-production vehicles expected to be produced at the Lordstown Motors complex in the next six months.
After that, some time next year, Lordstown Motors will start hiring for assembly workers.
"The worker bees, the assembly crew, that hiring comes closer to the production," Burns said. "We said 400 initially, so now it’ll be 600 due to building the battery packs and the in-wheel motor line,"
Burns said he would allow the UAW to organize if the workers chose to have a union. The jobs have been reported to pay about $17 an hour, a few dollars less than what a new line worker at the Detroit Three is paid per hour. Burns would not confirm a figure other than to say, “We expect to be competitive with pay compared to other automakers.”
Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns. (Photo: Courtesy Lordstown Motors)
Burns said Lordstown Motors is making its motors and battery packs in-house because it has no other choice.
"There aren’t readily available battery-pack makers and in-wheel motor factories," Burns said. "When you’re an electric vehicle maker, the battery pack is a super important part and so you want to keep those in-house if you can for controlling cost, quality and supply.”
New GM jobs near Lordstown
Meanwhile, GM is not done with Lordstown after all.
In December, GM said it formed a joint venture with LG Chem to make battery cells. The venture is called Ultium Cells LLC.
The Ultium Cell's investment is more than $2 billion to build a plant adjacent to the Lordstown Motors' facility. When it's completed in the first quarter of 2022, it will create more than 1,100 jobs, Flores said.
On Monday, GM got site approval from the Lordstown Planning Commission and it can start pouring concrete next month, Flores said. Still, that plant won't be ready in time for the Endurance assembly line which starts next year.
"So the initial couple years, it would not be GM's cells, but I don’t ever rule anything out," Burns said. "We are buying them now from a national cell maker that we haven’t announced yet.”
Also helping Lordstown get going are some outside consulting firms. For about the last year, it has relied on a consulting company in Detroit, but Burns was not authorized to release the company's name. It has about 104 engineers working on developing the Endurance.
Lordstown Motors also has a design firm in California that works on the exterior design for the Endurance and a “major interior company” in Detroit working on the interior.
“Then, you’ve got the safety engineers, the lighting engineers, and we’re reprogramming robots as we speak to do the Endurance parts rather than the Cruze parts," Burns said. "That’s a big orchestrated, choreographed dance to make a vehicle. But the Endurance is going to be better than we thought."
The Endurance is designed for fleet sales. It is a lightweight, all-wheel drive vehicle with a low center of gravity built using components licensed from electric truck maker Workhorse of suburban Cincinnati. It has a computerized motor in each of its wheels to propel it and gets the equivalent of 75 miles per gallon. Its range is 250 miles on one charge, Burns said.
The Endurance is eligible for the $7,500 instant tax rebate so it’s price tag drops to $45,000.
The Endurance all-electric pickup to be built by Lordstown Motors starting in 2021. (Photo: Courtesy Lordstown Motors)
The projected volume for first year of production is 20,000 vehicles, Burns said and based on initial interest, "I think we’ll have well, well north of the 20,000 well spoken for. The demand side is super strong, I am starting to worry we won’t be able to make them fast enough."
About 2.5 million full-sized pickups were sold in the United States last year, according to Kelley Blue Book. There are no all-electric models are offered yet, Burns said. He plans for Lordstown Motors to be out the gate first with the Endurance to capture a chunk of that market, which accounts for his ambitious employment goals.
“That plant was putting out more than 400,000 Cruze’s a year," said Burns. "We think, because our vehicle is simpler to make, with only four moving parts, we think that plant is capable of putting out 600,000 vehicles a year."
Those interested in employment at Lordstown Motors should submit a resume on the careers page here.
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