General Motors, under fire from President Trump, announced a $300 million investment at its Orion Assembly Plant in Michigan on Friday to make a new electric vehicle.
Trump has berated the company all week for shutting a factory in Ohio, and the announcement is in part driven by an effort to appease the president, according to two people familiar with matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Trump lashed out at GM for causing 5,400 job losses when it shuttered its Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant this month. GM said the new investment will bring 400 additional jobs to the Michigan plant.
Trump, who traveled to Ohio on Wednesday to visit a tank factory, spent part of his speech slamming GM and the United Automobile Workers union for dragging their feet on reopening the Lordstown facility.
“What’s going with General Motors? Get that plant open or sell it to somebody and they’ll open it. Everybody wants it,” Trump said to applause. “[GM and the UAW] say they have discussions coming up in September, October. I said, ‘Why not tomorrow?’ ”
On Friday, Barra touted the new money as part of a bigger $1.8 billion investment in the United States, but the company said that figure includes some facility upgrades that had previously been announced. It also comes on the heels of GM announcing a $2.7 billion investment in Brazil.
Trump was fuming when he called GM chief executive Mary Barra on Sunday and demanded that she reopen the Lordstown plant or sell it quickly to another manufacturer, according to two people familiar with the call.
Barra tried to tell Trump during their phone call that she can’t do anything about Lordstown right away because GM and the UAW will enter negotiations later this year over a new union contract. The fate of the Lordstown plant will be part of that discussion.
Trump said he “didn’t care at all about the union rules,” according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to divulge details of the private conversation. Trump additionally said he wouldn’t be happy with “token” things.
Barra tried to emphasize to Trump that the company has been working to relocate workers at Lordstown to other GM factories across the country. About 800 have transferred, according to the union, but Trump wasn’t satisfied with that, according to people familiar with the conversation.
GM has hired lobbyist Brian Ballard, who helped fundraise for Trump’s campaign, to try to contact the administration and lower the tension.
“Any time GM makes a big investment like this, it’s a commitment they plan to be making cars in that plant for a while,” said Kristin Dziczek, a vice president at the Center for Automotive Research. “This is really a good sign for Orion.”
The Orion plant outside Detroit has more than 880 hourly workers, according to the company’s website.
The plant mainly produces an electric car, the Chevy Bolt, and a self-driving vehicle, which GM leaders say are key to the company’s future. Friday’s announcement comes after GM announced last year that it would invest $100 million to build electric and autonomous vehicles at the Orion factory and at another Michigan facility.
GM cast the decision to build a new electric vehicle at the Orion facility as an effort to comply with the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement that was designed to push companies to build more vehicles in North America. The USMCA deal has yet to pass Congress.
Barra said it would cost about $100 million to retool the Lordstown plant to produce larger vehicles, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in December.
On the call and in tweets, Trump has told GM to start producing a different vehicle in Lordstown, which is located in a county in eastern Ohio that voted heavily for Barack Obama but swung to Trump.
The Lordstown factory made the Chevy Cruze, a small sedan that sold well after the Great Recession when gas prices were high and people were hesitant to spend much on big-ticket items. But sales have declined in recent years and GM doesn’t want to make small cars in the United States anymore, preferring to focus on trucks, SUVs and electric vehicles.
The Lordstown factory opened in 1966 and has been a bedrock of the local community, providing middle-class jobs for thousands of families. But auto plants “tend to last 50 or 60 years,” Dziczek said, meaning that Lordstown was “nearing the end of its useful life.”
Trump did not mention GM at a Business Roundtable meeting Thursday when dozens of chief executives met with the president, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door gathering. Barra is part of the group.
The union has also been a recipient of Trump’s ire this week. Trump blamed David Green, president of UAW Local 1112 in Lordstown, for not doing enough to keep the plant open. Green has written Trump two letters and spearheaded a grass-roots “Drive It Home” campaign to save the facility.
At the tank factory on Wednesday, Trump said union leaders are “not honest people” and claimed the GM Lordstown workers could have been saved if the UAW had lower dues, which many have pointed out is not true because union dues aren’t paid by the company.
Green shrugged off the president’s criticism, saying he welcomes attention on his beloved hometown and the factory that has been at the heart of it for years.
“I’m staying focused on our members and our facility here, and trying to just put all the noise out,” Green said.
When asked about GM pumping more money into another facility, Green said he welcomed expansion in the United States, but was quick to add, “We would like to see GM make announcements for investment in Lordstown.”
Damian Paletta contributed to this report.