General Motors invests $760 million for EV-related work at Toledo transmission plant

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Toledo − General Motors Co.'s decision to invest $760 million at its Toledo Propulsion Systems plant for the production of electric vehicle drive units is a win for the United Auto Workers as the union's leadership pushes to ensure it can organize future auto jobs.

UAW President Ray Curry, left, and Gerald Johnson, GM's executive vice president of global manufacturing and sustainability, at the automaker's investment announcement for the Toledo Propulsion Systems plant on Friday.

The Ohio factory is the first of GM’s U.S. propulsion-related manufacturing facilities to receive product for future battery electric trucks, which will include the Chevrolet Silverado EV, GMC Sierra EV and GMC Hummer EVs, the company said Friday.

Ensuring EV-related jobs for workers who produce internal combustion engine products is essential for the UAW as the industry transitions to electrification. But the union is still at odds with the GM and LG Energy Solution joint-venture company Ultium Cells LLC over efforts to organize the Ultium battery plant now in operation in northeast Ohio.

UAW President Ray Curry told media at the Toledo event that the union wants the company to recognize the UAW without having an election, but Ultium has not agreed to that. Workers at the Warren, Ohio, plant recently authorized a strike in a bid to get the company to recognize the UAW as their bargaining agent. The company has pushed for an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

"We're going to continue to having the engaged conversation there about voluntary recognition opportunity through card checks, then bargaining and other things will take place at a later date" Curry said. "But we are having ongoing conversations, and we believe that GM's committed and Ultium's committed to that process for the facility will be unionized. Based on the current numbers that we have which 90% of the members are workers there have actually signed up cards for that location and we'd like to be able to represent those workers moving forward."

Curry said the union is "not saying" a strike will occur there.

"We believe that GM, the UAW and Ultium can be successful and reach an agreement on an opportunity for those workers there," he said. "Strike is always the last alternative that takes place, and we'd like to be successful there as we have in other locations."

In a Friday statement, Ultium Cells spokesperson Brooke Waid said: "Ultium Cells respects workers’ right to unionize and the efforts of the UAW or any other union to organize battery-cell manufacturing workers at our manufacturing sites. Ultium Cells has every intention of complying with the National Labor Relations Act, which protects our employees’ right to decide the issue of union representation through a voluntary democratic election conducted by the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board)."

The Toledo investment, though, is "a positive sign that the UAW should be pleased with," said Marick Masters, a professor at Wayne State University's Mike Ilitch School of Business.

UAW workers and others respond to the investment announcement at GM's Toledo Propulsion Systems plant.

It doesn't mean new jobs for the plant, but the 1,500 jobs there now will be retained. The facility will make GM’s family of EV drive units, which convert electric power from the battery pack to move the vehicle's wheels. The plant will continue to build transmissions for internal combustion vehicles while building drive units during GM’s EV transition, the automaker said. Renovation work at Toledo will start this month.

GM also recently announced an investment of $491 million at its Marion, Indiana, metal stamping plant for production of steel and aluminum stamped parts for future products, including electric vehicles.

"Despite some of those who have tried to downplay the EV opportunities as being the erosion of opportunities and erosion of jobs, we've seen job creation with every GM announcement that's taking place," Curry said.

GM has 10 propulsion plants in the U.S. Experts expect there to be a consolidation of these plants as automakers push forward on the EV future.

"EVs are just honestly a lot more simplistic, so there's not going to be as much to them," said Brian Maxim, vice president of global powertrain at AutoForecast Solutions LLC.

Gerald Johnson, GM executive vice president of global manufacturing and sustainability, said production of the EV drive units at Toledo Transmission will start in early 2024. The plant includes 2.8 million square feet, enabling production of both internal combustion engine and EV products.

"The overlap that we're going to be able to do here with current transmissions for internal combustion engines and drive units for EVs (is) gonna allow us to migrate ourselves along with demand into the future," Johnson said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, U.S. Sen. Sherrod, a Democrat from Cleveland, and other politicians were in attendance at the Toledo announcement Friday.

DeWine, a Republican, congratulated the Toledo plant's workforce: "This announcement today ... is really a testament to your skill, your professionalism, your dedication, your work ethic."

Brown told the crowd of workers in attendance: “Today, the rest of the world is finally recognizing what Ohio already knew. That is, Ohio union workers are the future of the auto industry and the future of our state.”

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GM's Toledo Propulsion Systems plant will produce drive units that will be used for future battery electric trucks, including the Chevrolet Silverado EV, GMC Sierra EV and GMC Hummer EVs.