`Nothing new' on GM plant's future

It's up to van sales, chairman indicates after annual meeting

June 08, 1999|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, Del. -- There were no encouraging words about the future of General Motor Corp.'s van assembly plant in Baltimore at the automaker's annual meeting yesterday.

"There is nothing new to report," GM's chairman and chief executive, John F. Smith Jr., said when asked about the future of the company's 64-year-old plant in Southeast Baltimore.

"The market will determine the future of that plant," Smith said after the stockholders' session. "As we speak, that plant is running full tilt."

Responding to increased demand for the plant's midsize Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans, workers at the Broening Highway facility worked two eight-hour overtime shifts Saturday. They are working between one and two hours of overtime on each daily shift this week.

Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the plant's 2,800 hourly workers, said the overtime is expected to continue until the plant closes for new-model introduction next month.

Smith told Gov. Parris N. Glendening last summer that the Baltimore plant, the city's largest manufacturing employer, would remain open at least until the end of next year.

Beyond that, its future is uncertain.

The closing of another assembly plant, in Flint, Mich., was a topic of discussion at yesterday's meeting, attended by about 200 investors.

Arthur McGee, president of UAW Local 599 in Flint, and several other union officials made a last-ditch plea to GM's top management to replace the old Buick City car assembly plant after it closes next month.

McGee pointed out that the Buick LeSabre and Pontiac Bonneville assembly plant recently earned the top quality award from J. D. Power and Associates, something that no other auto plant in the United States achieved.

Smith said the Buick City plant represented a "difficult issue" for GM.

He called the facility a "great plant," but also noted that GM has excess large-car capacity.

Smith said GM will introduce 14 new vehicles in the U.S. market this year -- about half of them "will be innovative concepts aimed at redefining product segments and creating new segments."

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