Cruze sits front and center at auto show

Lordstown plant leaders discuss health of vehicle

Tribune Chronicle / Liam Bouquet Glenn Johnson, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112 at the General Motors assembly plant in Lordstown, speaks about the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze at the Cleveland Auto Show Friday at the IX Center in Cleveland. The Cruze is one of the centerpieces of GM’s display.

CLEVELAND — A Lordstown-built 2018 Chevrolet Cruze, glistening under the IX Center’s high-intensity lighting, was front and center at the Cleveland Auto Show on Friday while leadership from the General Motors Lordstown Assembly Complex discussed the health of the car and the plant it calls home.

“We launched the Cruze about eight years ago, and in that time we’ve sold almost 2 million — 1.8 million that have been built in Lordstown — and we’ve been a major player in the compact car segment,” Rick Demuynck, Lordstown plant manager, said. “I’m very proud of our customer acceptance and the feedback we’ve gotten.”

Glenn Johnson, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, said the plant workers take pride in their work.

“(Our members) do a fantastic job building the world-class Chevy Cruze every day. They come to work, put their heart and soul into it,” he said.

The Cruze was on display alongside other Chevrolet vehicles for the annual auto show, which started Friday and runs through March 4.

“We are entering an important time with the spring selling season coming up. This show is a great opportunity to get some exposure,” Demuynck said. “Not just for the Cruze, that’s very important to us obviously, but to the entire product line.”

Chevrolet remained the top-selling brand in northeast Ohio in January, according to GM.

While the Lordstown-built compact Cruze remains one of the best selling compact cars in America, combined sales for the compact and Mexican-built hatchback Cruze have trended downward since 2014, reaching a low of 184,751 sales in 2017. January brought more bad news with sales of the Cruze compact car dropping 45 percent compared to January 2017.

“Small cars are a challenge right now,” Johnson said. “I’m optimistic because I’m a believer in our membership. Our members work their tails off every single day because they know the gravity of the situation.”

After 2017 saw 1,200 layoffs and the elimination of the third shift at the plant, the plant’s two local unions, UAW 1112 and 1714, decided to merge to reduce costs for GM in hopes of protecting the plant’s future and its 3,000 employees.

“We’ve made some tough decisions with our partners in the UAW to make ourselves even more competitive so we can thrive in these conditions,” Johnson said.

Rob Morales, president of the former Local 1714, said while merging required some adjustments to language in bylaws, membership has adjusted well.

“We like to think that the only thing that is going to change is the number at the end of the local,” he said. “It has been normal business as usual throughout the plant and that was one of the things there was some unease about. Once they understood what the process is, we’ve been able to relieve that tension.”

Despite slacking Cruze sales, GM posted fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that beat expectations even as U.S. car sales fell for the first time in eight years, and GM saw the fastest-growing crossover sales in the U.S in 2017.

Larger vehicles like crossovers, trucks and SUVs have grown in popularity as they have grown more fuel efficient and gas prices have stayed down. AAA cautioned consumers in January that gas prices may finally be on the rise in 2018.

Demuynck said GM continues to be committed to the Cruze and Lordstown, and the plant will work to ready itself for whatever the market presents.

“We are focusing on the things that we control — our safety our quality our cost. We can’t control what happens in the marketplace,” he said. “We are optimizing our operations so that if opportunity presents itself, we are more than ready and willing.”