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Manufacturer may not have looked at Janesville GM plant

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JAMES P. LEUTE
November 8, 2009
— It’s unlikely Fisker Automotive gave much thought to building plug-in hybrid cars at the shuttered General Motors assembly plant in Janesville.

But the company’s decision to buy an inactive GM plant in Delaware certainly didn’t go unnoticed by those concerned about the future of the 4.2 million-square-foot facility on Janesville’s south side.


Fisker will pay $18 million for the GM plant in Wilmington, Del., that until this summer produced the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice roadsters. Fisker recently won approval for $528.7 million in government loans to develop plug-ins and expects to spend another $175 million to refurbish the facility before production of next-generation hybrids begins in 2012.


Fisker expects the plant will create 2,000 factory jobs and more than 3,000 vendor and supplier jobs by 2014, with full production capacity of between 75,000 and 100,000 vehicles per year. More than half the cars will be exported.


James Otterstein, Rock County’s economic development manager, said he wasn’t aware of any direct Fisker interest in the Janesville plant, which ended sport-utility vehicle production last December and medium-duty work in April.


That’s not unusual, he said, because companies often use third-party consultants to narrow possible sites. Otterstein said he’s fielded a half-dozen inquiries on the plant, but he and other local officials rarely learn the identity of the prospective end user.


While local officials continue to work on the future of the Janesville plant, many local GM employees are working on their own futures.


The payroll at the Janesville plant included 1,926 hourly workers as of June 1, 2008. Since then, 46 percent of the workers have left GM under early retirement and buyout programs, and another 28 percent have transferred to other assembly plants. About 500 people remain laid off, GM officials said.


Fisker officials said it’s not immediately clear whether former GM workers in Delaware would be given priority status at its new operation.


They did say the Wilmington plant’s modern paint operation and its proximity to sea ports were important factors in buying the Delaware facility, particularly in light of the company’s export plans.


The fact that Vice President Joe Biden is from Delaware probably didn’t hurt Wilmington’s chances, either.


In a Janesville versus Wilmington competition—if there ever was one—the Delaware plant was likely more attractive because it is part of the “bad” or “old GM,” while the main Janesville plant is part of the “good” or “new GM.”


After emerging from bankruptcy this summer, the automaker’s good assets were transferred to the New GM Corp., which changed its name to General Motors Co.


Undesirable assets from the former GM Corp. were packaged into a company called Motors Liquidation Co.


Fisker is buying the Wilmington plant from Motors Liquidation Co., a conglomeration of assets that will be sold to the highest bidder under court supervision. The old GM will remain an entity until all of the facilities are sold off, a process that could take months or years.


As part of the “new GM,” the Janesville plant is considered in standby status and could be retooled should GM need more production capacity.


Whether that happens remains to be seen, but several sources have said the Janesville plant is essentially locked up until GM and the United Auto Workers reopen their national contract in 2011.


It is possible, however, that GM could entertain a specific redevelopment proposal for the property before the current contract expires. For that to happen, sources have said, the proposal likely would have to include a UAW workforce.


“The plant will remain on ‘standby status’ through the life of the agreement unless the parties agree to do something different,” said GM spokeswoman Kim Carpenter.


While the main plant was kept as a “new GM” asset, he said, the automaker’s training center across Jackson Street went to Motors Liquidation Co.



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