LORDSTOWN - General Motors will invest about $200 million to retool the Lordstown complex, guaranteeing continued local production of the Chevrolet Cruze for years to come, company and union officials announced Thursday.
The investment means a redesigned ''new generation'' compact car will be produced at the Lordstown facility, United Auto Workers Local 1112 president Glenn Johnson said at the union hall Thursday afternoon.
Johnson's announcement came moments after the company held a telephone conference to announce the investment.
''This is strong evidence that we are on the right track in Lordstown, and it was exactly the right place to build the Cruze and to build its next generation,'' said Arvin Jones, GM Manufacturing manager.
''We have done just exactly what we said we would do,'' Johnson said. ''We have secured the future for General Motors (here) for a very long time.''
About 4,150 hourly workers are employed at the Lordstown plant. General Motors' investment also will include $20 million for upgrades to the Parma stamping plant, which employs about 500 hourly workers.
Overall Jones said the decision will retain 5,000 jobs in Northeast Ohio, including salaried workers. Jones would not say if the updates could lead to any new job creation.
"The majority of the $200 million being used for the Lordstown plant will be for facility rearrangement and new equipment," Jones said.
Most of the investment will be aimed at body retooling in the Lordstown fabricating plant, Johnson said. The new small car will include a redesigned, more user-friendly interior and exterior, fresh styling, increased cargo space and even better fuel economy on a small car that already gets 35 to 42 miles to the gallon, depending on the engine and transmission.
Union and company officials said no start date has been established for production of the new Cruze. Preliminary work to clear space in the body shop at Lordstown has begun, company officials said.
UAW Local 1714 president Dave Green credited workers for delivering quality and productivity that led to the announcement without a major promotional campaign or worker concessions.
''This is our future probably till around 2020 we are going to have a product here in Lordstown,'' Green said. ''So people should feel comfortable and realize that our future is here. We want to make sure that we can continue to provide that economic boost that Lordstown always has.''
Workers and retirees gathered inside the UAW Local 1112 union hall in North Jackson to hear the announcement by their union leaders first hand.
''We were hopeful that it was coming. We heard bits and pieces, but nothing for sure,'' said fab plant worker Jim McGowan of Hubbard. McGowan has worked at the plant since 1995.
Assembly plant worker Dan Adams of Struthers was especially pleased at the way the decision was made without heavy negotiations or reopening labor contracts.
''We didn't have to open up a contract and give anything back. We earned this,'' Adams said.
In a joint statement, UAW Local 1112 Shop Chairman Ben Strickland and UAW Local 1714 Shop Chairman Will Adams also credited the Lordstown team.
"The men and women of Lordstown are working hard to keep the Cruze a top-quality small car choice. The next-generation of the Cruze is well earned and we are thrilled to be assigned work that will keep good-paying next-generation UAW jobs in the state of Ohio for years to come."
"Lordstown is a very good operation," Jones said. ''This will pay huge dividends for the company, its customers and the people of northeast Ohio.''
The thought was shared Thursday afternoon by skilled trades workers who were getting word of the announcement and who likely will be contracting to do the construction work inside the plant.
''We will all get some of that work,'' said Rick Ellis, business manager for Ironworkers Local 207 in Boardman, referring to skilled trade laborers, electricians, millwrights, carpenters and ironworkers. ''All the trades will benefit.''
Former Gov. Ted Strickland, speaking on behalf of the President Barack Obama campaign, agreed.
''That is the importance of this industry,'' Strickland said. ''One in eight jobs is in some way related to this industry, and it's not just the production of cars like the Chevy Cruze, but the production of the auto parts and building trades who will do the actual construction of the facility.''
Strickland is Obama's campaign co-chairman for Ohio.
A spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich said the news is further evidence that Ohio is getting back on track.
''We are appreciative of GM's confidence in our workers and in our economy,'' said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.
The new diesel fuel Cruze being assembled at the Lordstown plant is in production and set to be released around March 2013.
The compact car is GM's second-best selling car with nearly 129,000 sold so far this year. The Lordstown complex has built 500,000 Cruzes since production began in September 2010. More than 1.6 million Cruzes have been built globally since 2009. The Lordstown complex has built more than 14.6 million cars in the 46 years since it opened in April 1966.