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2010 outlook brighter for GM in Lansing

By Mark Bashore, WKAR News


Compared to the gloom of 2009, the mood for the new year among General Motors' workers in Lansing has brightened.

Last year will be remembered for the bankruptcy and restructuring of the legendary automaker. As 2010 dawns, anxiety is receding, especially in places like Lansing. GM will add some nine-hundred workers to local payrolls, as it ramps up toward 24-hour car assembly in early April. Brian Fredline is President of United Auto Workers Local 602, which represents workers at the expanding Delta Township facility.

"Rather than having twenty plants on one shift, they have eight plants on three shifts and I think that's a good thing for job security and income security," Fredline says.

As the company has downsized, he says it makes sense for surviving jobs to come to Delta's more modern plant. That's where the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia are built and where planning is underway to make the Chevy Traverse. Next week, the first of over 400 GM workers from Tennessee begin training for their new jobs at the plant. Area economic developers are hopeful the influx of new residents will warm up the local economy.

That's part of a much larger pattern. New faces are in new positions throughout the "new GM." Last month, the company parted ways with Chief Executive Fritz Henderson. His permanent successor will become its second new chief in under a year. That's largely the result of the automaker's new Chairman and acting President, Ed Whitacre, who has established himself as a powerful advocate for change.

Locally, GM is seeing turnover as well. Last week, Alicia Boler-Davis stepped down as Regional Plant Manager after only three months here. She becomes a Chief Engineer for the company's small vehicles. Company spokesperson Heidi Magyar says Lansing's top job means establishing good relationships with large, diverse groups:

"It's the community, it's General Motors, it's our UAW partners, and we're all working together," Magyar says. "Being as focused on people as much as on making vehicles."

Also, the automaker will become acquainted with new executive leadership at the United Auto Workers. UAW national vice-president Bob King will likely replace Ron Gettlefinger in June.

But the biggest factor impacting General Motors is still a question mark. That's sales. Most analysts predict industry-wide sales of around 11.5 million vehicles in 2010. That's about a million more than '09, but still well below the 16 million level from most of the past decade. David Cole is with the Center For Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. He says a sales bump wouldn't surprise him, but it's hard to predict:

"We could be surprised on the up side, we could be surprised on the downside, but be prepared for another interesting year," Cole says.

Cole is more optimistic about the company's lighter health care obligation to its retirees. He says that effectively cuts costs between four-and-six thousand-dollars per car and in the end puts GM on a much better cost footing with Toyota and Honda.

Meanwhile, Lansing will be assembling at least three products for the first time in 2010, two of them new. They're the Buick Acadia Denali at Delta Township later in the year. At Grand River, it's the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. Both will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show next week. The more familiar Chevy Traverse starts rolling off the line in Delta Township in February.

reWorking Michigan
For more on job creation and workforce evolution in Michigan, visit WKAR.org/reworkingmichigan

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