GM partners with Navistar to finish cutaway vans

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Navistar International Corp. will build cutaway vans for General Motors Co. beginning next year, helping free up additional capacity for midsize truck production at the automaker’s Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri.

Navistar on Thursday said it would begin producing the vans that can be configured as utility vehicles, ambulances, shuttle buses or school buses for commercial customers in the first part of 2017. With a multi-year contract, the Illinois-based producer of trucks, buses and military vehicles said it would add at least 300 jobs and a second shift at its Springfield, Ohio, plant.

“This partnership will provide our Wentzville, Missouri, assembly plant more flexibility to keep up with continued demand for mid-size trucks and full size vans,” said Cathy Clegg, GM North America vice president of manufacturing and labor relations, in a statement.

In November, an internal message shared with employees at the Wentzville plant said GM was looking to move cutaway van production from the plant as early as late this year.

It’s not known how much additional production GM will be able to create with the move. A spokesman said GM is not disclosing that. GM will assemble the van’s cab at Wentzville and it will be shipped to Navistar for additional work.

The Wentzville plant builds the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans and the midsize Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups. Midsize truck sales have been growing for GM since it launched the new trucks in fall 2014. Sales of the Canyon are up 11.8 percent through May this year compared to the same months in 2015, while Colorado sales through the same period are up 20.5 percent.

A third shift at the plant was added in early 2015 and nearly 4,500 employees work in the facility.

Navistar president of operations Persio Lisboa said the company is pleased to partner with GM. The companies declined to disclose details or the cost of their agreement.

In September, GM and Navistar announced another long-term contract to develop and build medium-duty trucks at the Springfield plant beginning in 2018. Navistar is expected to add 300 jobs and invest $12 million at the plant for that work.