published Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

GM revs up Spring Hill Tenn., facility

General Motors cars are assembled at the General Motors Spring Hill Manufacturing Plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. General Motors announced Tuesday it is spending another $167 million at the factory so it can build two new midsize vehicles.
General Motors cars are assembled at the General Motors Spring Hill Manufacturing Plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. General Motors announced Tuesday it is spending another $167 million at the factory so it can build two new midsize vehicles.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Volkswagen isn’t the only car company in Tennessee eyeing production of a new sport utility vehicle.

General Motors on Tuesday unveiled a new $167 million infusion into its Spring Hill, Tenn., assembly plant, which coupled with an earlier plan to invest $187 million could lead to a pair of new SUVs.

GM also said the investment will create or retain 1,800 jobs at the Middle Tennessee factory that now employs about 2,000 people. The timing and product will be unveiled closer to production startup, according to the Detroit automaker.

While GM wouldn’t identify the vehicles, those could be new versions of the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossover SUVs, according to The Associated Press.

The plant, about 30 miles south of Nashville, now makes the Equinox along with a factory in Canada. Although it’s selling well, it was last reworked in 2009 and competes against newer vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and ToyotaRAV-4.

“Today’s announcement recognizes the commitment of Spring Hill employees and leadership,” said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, in a statement.

Jim Glynn, GM’s labor relations vice president, said in a telephone interview that the announcement is “great news for Spring Hill.” He said the investment and jobs are a result of working with the United Auto Workers to creatively solve business challenges.

Bob King, the UAW’s chief, said the union and the company work on issues such as continuous improvement and productivity among others.

“Our members are committed to the success of GM,” he said.

To fill the jobs, officials said there may be a combination of hiring current Tennesseans and offering jobs to other UAW members.

“There may be a mix,” said Gary Casteel, a UAW regional director in Lebanon, Tenn. “We had a lot of people follow their jobs away from Spring Hill. They’re all over the country. There is a path to return home when the work returns.”

Just Monday, VW’s Chattanooga plant chief said at an automotive conference in Michigan that the German automaker is expected to decide in the fourth quarter if the city or Mexico will land a new seven-seat SUV.

“We are in the process but we expect a decision by the end of the year,” said Frank Fischer, who oversees VW’s operations in Chattanooga.

The GM plant was idled amid the economic downturn in 2009. But production was restarted following a 2011 contract agreement with the UAW that included salary concessions for entry-level workers. GM announced in 2011 it would add 700 jobs to build the Equinox, and that it would add 1,200 jobs to build two more midsized vehicles for the 2015 model year.

King’s UAW currently is trying to unionize VW’s Chattanooga plant as the automaker looks at putting into place a German-style works council.

On Tuesday, he talked of “the value of collective bargaining,” adding that “there wouldn’t be a Spring Hill without the UAW.”

He said that by the UAW working with the Detroit 3 car companies, a lot of work has been brought back to the United States from locations such as Mexico and Korea.

“Today it’s Spring Hill, but we work just as hard for our members and communities in all of the places where we represent workers,” King said.

However, top political leaders in the state, including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, have said the Chattanooga plant doesn’t need to be organized and that it could have negative consequences in recruiting more business to Tennessee.

Also, a Washington, D.C.-based group, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has begun a campaign in Chattanooga to tell others about "the history, tactics and legacy" of the UAW.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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