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Last Updated : Dec 06, 2018 08:05 AM IST | Source: Reuters

GM CEO Mary Barra will keep 'open mind' on plant closings

Barra came under pressure from Ohio's two U.S. senators and other lawmakers who want GM to shift production of a vehicle from Mexico or build electric vehicles at the Lordstown Assembly plant in their state that the automaker has said it intends to close.

General Motors Co Chief Executive Mary Barra vowed to keep an "open mind" about the future of an Ohio plant that will lose vehicle production, but warned the Detroit automaker has excess capacity and did not suggest the company was reconsidering.

Barra came under pressure from Ohio's two U.S. senators and other lawmakers who want GM to shift production of a vehicle from Mexico or build electric vehicles at the Lordstown Assembly plant in their state that the automaker has said it intends to close.

"I want to make sure that the workforce knows that there are limitations and we do have an overcapacity across the country," Barra said, urging workers at plants set to close to take seriously offers of GM jobs in other parts of the countries.

GM said last week it will close five North American assembly plants next year and cut up to 15,000 jobs as it blames slow selling car sales for the need to restructure.

The CEO said GM planned to add other products at U.S. plants next year and that the automaker would have some jobs to fill at other Ohio facilities in 2019.

"It's incredibly hard to make these kind of decisions," Barra said. "We are trying to do the right thing because we think Ohio is a very important auto state."

Senator Rob Portman said Barra made no promises about the future of the -Lordstown plant in Ohio, where the soon-to-be-discontinued Chevrolet Cruze sedans are manufactured.

Barra said the plant's ultimate status will be determined during contract talks next year with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

"So what I mean when I say 'open mind' is the plant is unallocated and that's part of agreement with the UAW - we have to have conversations with the UAW to make a different decision on a plant and I'm going to respect that process in that period," Barra said.

"We're not asking for charity." Portman said, adding the members are asking for a new product for the plant to build.

Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, also said Barra did not make any commitments or give any assurances.

GM has come under harsh criticism from lawmakers and from President Donald Trump since Nov. 26, when the No. 1 U.S. automaker announced the biggest restructuring since its bankruptcy a decade ago.

Portman said he spoke to fellow Republican Trump on Wednesday about GM.

Barra is in Washington for meetings with lawmakers, including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer as well as lawmakers from Ohio and Maryland. She was also expected to meet with lawmakers from Michigan on Thursday, among other meetings.

She defended the cuts as necessary to ensure the automaker's long-term financial health, adding that a "strong General Motors" is the best way to ensure the company's long-term success.

Trump told GM last week that the company "better" find a new vehicle to build at the plant in Ohio, which could be crucial to his re-election chances in 2020.

After GM announced its plans, Trump threatened to eliminate subsidies for GM in retaliation. Administration officials later said they wanted to end subsidies for electric cars in 2020 or 2021, affecting GM and other automakers.

Trump also said new auto tariffs were being studied, asserting, without evidence, that they could prevent job cuts such as those planned by GM.

The UAW has objected to GM's plan to end production in 2019 at four U.S. plants, saying it violates commitments made during contract talks in 2015. The union has asked GM to rescind the decision and resolve the fate of the plants in talks for a new labour contract next year.

Sherrod Brown, Ohio's other senator and a Democrat, said Barra will speak with the union about accelerating decisions on where the company locates plants.
First Published on Dec 6, 2018 07:54 am
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