GM Mexico's $1 billion EV investment called 'slap in the face' by UAW

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit —  A day after President Joe Biden extolled the need for American workers to build a zero-emissions future, General Motors Mexico said the company is investing $1 billion to transition its Ramos Arizpe assembly plant to build electric vehicles there by 2023.

"So folks, there’s no reason why Americans — American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries," Biden told Congress in a primetime address Wednesday. "We have the capacity. They’re best-trained people in the world. And all the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: Buy American. Buy American."

General Motors Co.'s Ramos Arizpe plant in Mexico.

GM's Spanish-language statement appeared only on GM Mexico's media site. It did not detail which electric models would be built at the plant, but it did say the assembly plant would continue producing the Chevrolet Equinox and Chevrolet Blazer, engines and transmissions. The vehicles currently built at Ramos are shipped globally, including to the United States.

Ramos would be GM's fifth EV plant in North America. GM has designated three U.S. plants to build EVs: Orion Assembly in Lake Orion, Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center and the Spring Hill assembly plant in Tennessee. Outside of the U.S., GM said it will invest $800 million at its CAMI manufacturing plant in Ontario for the production of a commercial electric van.

The automaker is investing billions to transition internal combustion engine-producing plants to make EVs as it aims to reach a self-imposed "aspiration" of selling only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035 — commitments that have drawn the attention of investors looking for winners in an electrified auto industry. 

In a statement responding to the Mexico investment, United Auto Workers Vice President Terry Dittes, head of the union's GM Department, said: "At a time when General Motors is asking for a significant investment by the U.S. government in subsidizing electric vehicles, this is a slap in the face for not only UAW members and their families but also for U.S. taxpayers and the American workforce.

"General Motors automobiles made in Mexico are sold in the United States and should be made right here, employing American workers," he added. "That is why our nation is investing in these companies. Taxpayer money should not go to companies that utilize labor outside the U.S. while benefiting from American government subsidies. This is not the America any of us signed on for. Frankly, it is unseemly.”

In response, GM spokesman Dan Flores said GM "recently announced nearly 9,000 jobs and more than $9 billion in new electric vehicle or battery cell manufacturing facilities in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. As a global company that builds and sells products around the world, we will we take the appropriate steps to transition our manufacturing footprint moving forward to support our all-EV vision.”

In a statement to The Detroit News, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said: "“Electric vehicles must be built here in America by the finest workforce in the world — the American workers. Not one American dollar should support our own jobs being shipped off to Mexico — especially when we have the workers and the technology to manufacture electric vehicles ourselves.

"General Motors needs to reaffirm their commitment to working families now. I am focused on ensuring auto innovation and manufacturing stays in the hands of hard-working American people."

The news of the $1 billion investment in Ramos comes after UAW President Rory Gamble used an interview with Reuters this week to say the union is in discussions with the Detroit automaker about representing workers at joint venture battery plants. GM responded in the report by saying: "workforces at those locations will determine whether or not the facility is represented by a union."

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is making moves to help the industry in its transition. Biden seeks a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, and has made clear that reducing emissions from the transportation sector is a central part of reaching that promise.

His $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure package would include $174 billion to "win" the electric vehicle market globally, including $15 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and $100 billion in new consumer rebates for buying EVs.

Construction has already started at Ramos. In addition to EVs, GM Mexico said batteries and electrical components will be built there starting in the second half of this year with production of drive units. GM Mexico did not indicate in its release if those parts will be shipped to the U.S. for other GM EVs.