Barra defends GM's plans to sell Lordstown plant

Keith Laing
The Detroit News
Chairwoman and CEO of General Motors Mary Barra. At $21.9 million, Barra was the highest-paid female CEO for 2018.

Washington — General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra was back on Capitol Hill Wednesday defending her company's plan to sell its Lordstown, Ohio, plant to a little known electric-truck maker. 

Barra met Wednesday with Michigan and Ohio lawmakers in a bid to win support for the potential sale of its shuttered Lordstown Assembly Plant to Cincinnati-based electric truckmaker Workhorse Group Inc., lawmakers and the company confirmed. 

In a statement provided to The Detroit News after the meetings, GM said: "Today, Mary Barra met with members of the Ohio and Michigan delegation as well as new members of Congress to provide a business update.

"As the U.S. economy and GM’s core business is strong, we have been able to expand our commitment to U.S. manufacturing and create job opportunities for our employees."

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement: "Today’s meeting was part of our ongoing efforts to push GM to do the right thing" for workers who will be affected by GM's plan to close the Lordstown plant and four other facilities, including two in Michigan. 

"We will continue to fight for the workers in the Mahoning Valley who dedicated their lives to making Lordstown an award-winning plant," Portman said. "We continue to have questions about GM’s decision to close the plant instead of bringing production of one of its 20 new electric vehicles there. My first choice remains for GM to reinvest in Lordstown, but we also need to hear more about this proposal to sell the plant to Workhorse and whether it will work." 

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, added: “GM owes these workers and local taxpayers who helped rescue the company when times were tough. Lordstown is an award-winning plant, and GM should invest its massive tax windfall to bring a new product to the plant — so these workers can keep doing what they do better than anyone: build great cars." 

The Detroit automaker has been on the defensive in Washington since November when the company announced a global restructuring that includes stopping production at five North American plants, enduring harsh criticism from politicians and union representatives in the U.S. and Canada. GM has since promised it would be able to offer new positions to a majority of the 2,800 affected U.S. hourly workers, announced new plant investments, created 1,800 new jobs and began negotiating with Canadian union Unifor. 

The company announced the potential Lordstown sale in May after a tweet from President Donald Trump, who hailed the deal as a political win in advance of a 2020 re-election that will rely heavily on Ohio and other midwestern states like Michigan. 

Workhorse is a startup focused on electric truck and aircraft development. The Ohio company recently postponed plans for an electric pickup to focus on battery-powered lightweight vans in an attempt to generate enough revenue to avoid a collapse, according to a March report from Workhorse reported a net loss of $36.5 million in 2018. The company recorded sales worth $364,000 in the first quarter of 2019, when its net losses totaled $6.3 million.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing