Janesville79°

Hope remains for GM plant

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JAMES P. LEUTE
April 22, 2009
— The General Motors assembly plant in Janesville is one of the automaker's biggest and oldest, two factors that some analysts have said explain why it soon will be a facility without a product.

But a local coalition is apparently banking on the plant's size as reason for the automaker to stay in Janesville.


Forward Janesville President John Beckord said Tuesday that the Janesville plant could play a role in the revitalization of the struggling automaker.


The plant's 4.8 million square feet would make it ideal to build multiple vehicles on one assembly line, much as BMW is doing at a plant in South Carolina.


"If the market comes back and GM can come up with the right product mix, there is a scenario in which this plant could come into play," Beckord said in comments to the Wisconsin Technology Council, which met at Blackhawk Technical College.


"That plant is so big that you could do multiple (vehicles) under one roof, perhaps as many as three different vehicles."


Late last year, a local coalition traveled to Detroit to present GM officials with a plan to keep some sort of vehicle production in Janesville. The multi-line production model was just one component of the group's proposal.


GM officials didn't say no to the group, but they didn't say yes, either. What they did say was that they'd meet again with the coalition.


But that was about the time GM started running into financial problems that have led to government loans and restructuring deadlines.


The Janesville group is still waiting to hear back from Detroit.


Beckord said that with the exception of about 1.5 million square feet, the Janesville plant was built or remodeled after 1975.


The group's multi-vehicle plan for the Janesville facility includes a shared paint department and is based on the work of hired consultants.


GM, he said, has way too much capacity for its slice of a U.S. market that used to sell 16.5 million vehicles a year.


At a U.S. production level of 9.5 million vehicles per year, GM could cut capacity across the country and consolidate the production of two or three vehicles in Janesville, Beckord said.


BMW's plant in Greer, S.C., builds X5 sports utility vehicles and X6 sports cars on the same line. Producing multiple vehicle types under one roof gives BMW the flexibility to change its production mix to meet market demands.


Beckord said the coalition's plan was well received in Detroit. So was the local union's ratification of a local contract that's considered a benchmark in the industry.


"That raised some eyebrows in Detroit," Beckord said. "We did everything we could to create the right situation in Janesville.


"In the end, though, it may not matter."


Gov. Jim Doyle, who appointed the local coalition, said Monday that he's waiting for a federal taskforce on the future of the auto industry before declaring the ultimate fate of the Janesville plant.


Doyle told a gathering of United Auto Workers officials that GM reps have told him in the last couple weeks that they continue to look at the Janesville plant as a possible manufacturing site.


"But I don't want anybody to draw any false hope from that because they always have been very clear in saying to me, ‘Look, we're dealing in a really difficult situation right now,'" Doyle said.



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