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GM Plant Closings Spare Lansing

Aerial view of auto assembly plant
Second Shift
The Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant

Last week, General Motors announced plans to close three production plants and phase out models like the Impala and the electric Volt.

The Lansing area’s two GM plants were spared, but what might the future hold for local production?

Micheline Maynard is a veteran journalist and author who has written extensively about the Detroit carmakers.

SCOTT POHL: The GM plant closings and layoffs left Lansing untouched. Lansing's two GM plants are the newest in the system, so it made me wonder if maybe that's why, or if there might be more to it than that.

MICHELINE MAYNARD: I think the GM plants in Lansing are safe for now. One of the things that protects them is they were built in this era of soft automation, where we use software in part to program what kinds of tasks are done on the factory floor. If you look at the other General Motors plants, even though they were modernized, even though they were updated, Lordstown, Oshawa and the Detroit Poletown Plant all predate the software era. They're hard automation plants, so every time that General Motors had to update them, they had to completely tear them apart, so I think the newness of the Lansing plants is probably going to keep them going for quite a while.

SP: Do you think there's any possibility or likelihood that workers who are losing their jobs elsewhere will one day wind up in Lansing?

MM: Oh, yes, there's already been discussion of that. Within the UAW this is called transfer rights, but what's interesting is that transfer rights used to be much wider than they are now. There was a time when you could basically work at any General Motors plant anywhere, and if your plant closed you could transfer to another factory. Now, the General Motors empire has kind of contracted a little bit, and from what I understand, transfer rights were affected by that, too. I think the main thing that affects transfer rights is seniority.

SP: Lansing is really proud of building the Camaro. Do you think the Camaro, specifically, is safe for the time being?

MM: That's a really hard one to answer. I wish I knew the profit margins on the Camaro, because I think that's what's going to determine whether things stick around. If the Camaro is doing well relative to its production costs and its development costs, I think GM would probably try to keep it. I think as long as Ford has the Mustang, General Motors would want to have the Camaro. Looking into the next years of the auto industry, I think people are being very conservative in some of their assumptions.

SP: What do you make of the pressure that President Trump is putting on GM?

MM: I think some of it is personal, honestly. I think that the President is angry at Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, and I think he feels that she's somehow double-crossed him, and I have no logical explanation for that. The President does seem to view things in the prism of his personal relationships. The interesting thing is that Mary Barra stayed on the President's American Manufacturing Council until it was disbanded. You might remember that about 16 months ago people were starting to leave the council for various reasons. Elon Musk left because he was upset that the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Accords, and then there were other CEO's who were angry over statements affecting Charlottesville, Virginia, but Mary Barra was one of the final CEO's left when the council disbanded. However, the President focused very clearly on Ohio and Michigan in the 2016 election campaign, and I think he feels like these plant closings will hurt his chances is 2020.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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