Lordstown Motors debuts electric truck against backdrop of presidential campaign

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Lordstown, Ohio —  Ahead of November's election, Vice President Mike Pence came to northeast Ohio Thursday to help celebrate "a new beginning for Lordstown," a place where General Motors Co. long built thousands of vehicles a year.

Now, electric vehicle startup Lordstown Motors Corp. has taken over the plant and this week debuted its battery-powered Endurance pickup truck that it plans to start production of next year.

“Today is another example of President Trump’s commitment to make America manufacturing great again,” Pence said. “Lordstown Motors is just the start. It’s going to continue to grow jobs in this area.” 

The $52,500 Endurance has an electric motor at each wheel, with no transmission or axles, making it easier to build and maintain. Lordstown Motors claims the truck can go 250 miles on a full charge and get the equivalent of 75 miles per gallon.

“We are very excited,” CEO Steve Burns said ahead of the reveal. “This is probably the biggest moment for a car company. It looks like a pickup truck on the outside, but underneath it’s like nothing else.”

When President Donald Trump held a rally Youngstown in the summer of 2017, he urged a crowd of thousands not to sell their houses because he would bring back lost manufacturing jobs to the former steel town.

Lordstown Motors' electric truck Endurance is displayed after its unveiling at the Lordstown Motors Corporation plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

Two years later, GM shut down its assembly plant in nearby Lordstown, dealing yet another blow to the Mahoning Valley's economy and forcing many to sell their homes and relocate.

Lordstown Motors purchased GM's Lordstown Assembly plant for $20 million in November 2019 with plans to mass-produce the Endurance.

The new Lordstown Motors plant initially will employ 400 assembly workers, 100 motor line workers, 100 battery line workers and 300 engineers, Burns said. That's a fraction of the 4,500 hourly workers who were building the Chevrolet Cruze in 2016 before the slow-selling sedan was axed from the lineup. But the future is looking brighter to some in the area as they watch Lordstown Motors take shape and GM start to develop land nearby for a new battery-cell manufacturing plant that will employ more than 1,100.

"It's coming up roses in the Village of Lordstown," Mayor Arno Hill said Thursday. 

General Motors plans to "continue to support" Lordstown Motors' "efforts to begin building the Endurance pick up truck next door to the massive new battery plant GM and LG Chem are building," GM spokesman Jim Cain said in a statement. "The region truly is becoming Voltage Valley."

The Lordstown Motors battery-powered Endurance pickup truck, Thursday, June 25, 2020.

Before buying the automaker's sprawling complex, Burns asked GM to keep the plant intact so he could make his project work. The Detroit automaker agreed selling the 6.2-million-square-foot plant with all the equipment still inside. GM loaned Lordstown Motors $40 million to help the startup retool the facility. 

"They've been so great of a partner in everything," Burns said of GM. "I think we have a great relationship with them. We are buying a few parts off of them, so hopefully it can be a richer relationship going forward."

GM used to build 400,000 Chevy Cruzes a year at the plant, but because the Lordstown Motors truck is simpler to build, Burns said the company could probably build 600,000 trucks a year “right here in the heart of the Midwest in a place ... known for building cars.”

Lordstown Motors has already sold 14,000 trucks. Production was supposed to start in late 2020, but was delayed until next summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus' has also affected the startup's capital raising. The company is working on trying to raise upwards of $400 million. One option for the company is a Department of Energy loan.

"It is attractive to us and the DOE is being a great partner to us, but we're not counting on it," Burns said. "They know we got the chops to make it ... the only thing they can't control is do people want it, and that's why the presales are so important."

Vice President Mike Pence at the debut of the Lordstown Motors Endurance truck on Thursday.

The Endurance is being introduced the same day as Ford Motor Co.'s next-generation F-150. The Blue Oval's iconic pickup is the ultimate mass-market vehicle, year after year outselling every offering in the United States. By contrast, the Endurance is aimed at fleet customers such as utility companies.

Electric utility company FirstEnergy plans to buy 250. SERVPRO, a fire and water restoration company servicing Ohio and Pennsylvania, in June signed a letter of intent to purchase 1,200 trucks.

Valley native Jimmy Dobson who owns the SERVPRO franchise said he "jumped on board immediately when we saw the opportunity to be a part of this. We saw Steve Burns' vision and what it could do for this valley and wanted to participate in that."

Focusing on fleet customers could play to Lordstown Motors' advantage because "it does feel like the consumer space is getting pretty crowded," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com, noting the coming of Tesla's Cybertruck and the GMC Hummer EV. 

"There could be a bit of an opportunity in the commercial market," Caldwell said. "For someone that's a little less well-known among the American public, that could be a better avenue for success. That said, I think all the other electric truck makers will also want a piece of that market, so there still will be competition."

The Endurance name represents what the truck can endure and the character of the blue-collar toughness of the people in the valley who have endured the closing of multiple steel mills more than 40 years ago and the auto plant that kept the area alive after the mills closed. 

The Endurance may be a symbol of the future in Lordstown, but that doesn't mean everyone forgets the past.  

"Obviously for the economy of the Mahoning Valley, everyone hopes it becomes a success along with that proposed battery plant ... but on the same token we lost 5,000 jobs directly and thousands more indirectly when GM unjustly stopped building the Cruze," said Tim O'Hara, who worked at the GM plant for 41 years and is still president of United Auto Workers Local 1112 that represented Lordstown Assembly. 

O'Hara had to sell his home when his wife transferred to GM's Corvette plant in Kentucky, he said: "For the valley, hopefully it gets off its feet and they start building the electric pickups there. But we still have bitterness about GM leaving the valley and all of our people either having to transfer or find other means of employment."

Jeremy Ladd, 43, worked at Lordstown Assembly for more than 20 years. He accepted a transfer last August to GM's truck plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He still has a house in northeast Ohio and commutes back and forth to see his wife, Leah, and their 8-year-old twin girls. They plan is to sell their Ohio home this year after Leah finishes nursing school.

Ladd sees Pence's campaign stop in Lordstown as a way for the Trump administration to "puff out their chest and say 'Hey, look what we did.'"

"They are going to do a victory lap when really it's anything but," Ladd said. "The area just died a little bit. The Rust Belt got a little more rust on it and they are going to act like this is a victory."


Twitter: @bykaleahall