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GM says $200M in investment headed to 2 Michigan plants

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. said Friday it will invest $200 million at its Orion Assembly Plant and Pontiac Metal Center to help prepare for a future vehicle. The automaker said no new jobs are part of the investments.

The investment includes $160 million for tooling and equipment at Orion Assembly in Orion Township. Pontiac Metal Center will receive $40 million investment for new dies. The automaker did not give any specifics on the vehicle, or when the investment would occur, but it’s believed to be an addition to the vehicles currently built at Orion. Workers at Orion Assembly build the small Buick Verano and subcompact Chevrolet Sonic.

Several people close to the company believe the vehicle coming to Orion could be a new battery-electric, which was teased by GM’s global product development chief Mark Reuss in October. Reuss, speaking at GM’s Global Business Conference, gave no details on what he called the Chevrolet “BEV2,” or where it would be built.

GM would not comment on the vehicle slated for Orion.

Investors and analysts at the October conference were shown photos of the “BEV2,” which one Wall Street analyst said appeared to be an all-new electric vehicle with greater range than the currently offered Chevrolet Spark EV. GM executives have said GM was working on a 200-mile range electric car.

The investment at Orion and Pontiac Metal Center are part of about $300 million in investments that GM CEO Mary Barra said in late October GM would announce by the end of the year.

“Today’s announcement is a shot in the arm for these two terrific plants known for their teamwork and employee engagement,” Cathy Clegg, GM North America Manufacturing vice president, said in a statement. “We’re committed to growing our brands and producing the highest-quality and safest vehicles for our customers.”

Earlier this month, GM announced it would lay off 160 at Orion Assembly beginning in January through the end of 2015. The plant currently has about 1,750 hourly workers.

The plans to cut production at Orion Assembly will result in GM reducing capacity at the plant from 45 to about 37 cars per hour. Smaller car sales have dropped with low gas prices and as consumers increasingly turn to crossovers. Verano sales were down 7.3 percent in October and are down 6.2 percent this year to 37,391. Sonic sales fell 23 percent in October, but are still up 8.8 percent this year to 83,210. GM has large supplies of unsold Sonics and Veranos on dealer lots.

Pontiac Metal employs about 400 hourly employees. UAW Local 653 President Mike Warchuck said the announcement enhances job security at the plants and members at Pontiac Metal are excited.

“The investment is great news. Our site was one of the sites that was slated to close during the bankruptcy,” he said. “We’ve been crawling our way back. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the area.”

On Thursday, GM also announced a $7.5 million investment to update its air and heating system at its Flint Assembly Plant to make the systems more energy efficient.

GM in late October said it would invest $63 million at its Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant to expand the body shop, assembly and paint shop areas. The facility currently builds the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave SUVs. No new jobs are expected, but the work is expected to retain 38 jobs.

In 2009, GM announced plans to close a dozen plants including six in Michigan. The automaker reversed its decision to close Orion Assembly after the UAW made significant concessions to allow GM to be able to make small cars profitably in the U.S.

The company invested $545 million in 2010 to retool the plant for the Sonic and Verano.

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