GM gets a nudge from the governor

But no promises are elicited about van plant's future

February 27, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

In his continuing effort to ensure a future for the General Motors Corp. van assembly plant in Baltimore, Gov. Parris N. Glendening met with the company's top U.S. vehicle manufacturing executive yesterday, but came away with no promises of a new product for the company's 67-year-old facility - or for an expansion of its new Allison transmission plant in White Marsh.

"No announcements were made," GM spokesman Brian Goebel said of the meeting between Guy Briggs, vice president of vehicle manufacturing, and the governor. "The meeting was part of maintaining our good communications with the state."

Said David S. Iannucci, secretary of Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, who participated in the 30-minute session: "The governor pressed hard, on the behalf of the 1,500 workers at the van assembly plant, for an extension of the 2003 time line."

There was some discussion of a possible extension, he said, "but no commitment was made. There was no change in GM's position."

GM has been saying for more than a year that it will continue to produce the Astro and Safari vans at its Baltimore plant until at least the third quarter of next year. Beyond that, the company says, the market for the vans will determine the plant's future.

The governor, along with workers at the plant, see an extension of van production as a way of increasing the chances of a new vehicle being assigned to be made here.

Briggs traveled to Washington, where Glendening was participating in a meeting of the National Governors Association.

Allison plant discussed

The governor also asked Briggs about GM's intentions concerning a previously announced expansion of its Allison Transmission plant in White Marsh, which employs 350.

Briggs could not be reached for comment after the meeting, but, according to Iannucci, Briggs said nothing to indicate that the expansion will not eventually take place.

In June 2000 - nine months before the opening of the transmission plant - GM announced that it would invest $206 million to double the facility's size and production, and add 390 jobs, most of them filled by workers transferring from the Baltimore van plant.

But the expansion was put on hold last year after sales of commercial trucks turned soft because of the declining economy.

The state and Baltimore County have offered GM $3.2 million in incentives to encourage the expansion.

The money would be used train workers and to help pay for an electrical power plant serving the transmission factory.

Iannucci said the financial package remains intact as the state waits for GM to renew its expansion plan.

One downside of the meeting was Briggs' acknowledgement of published reports that GM has excess vehicle production capacity. According to Iannucci, Briggs said the entire industry has to align production capacity with projected sales.

`This does not bode well'

"This does not bode well for the Baltimore van plant," said Brett Smith, a senior industry analyst with the Center for automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

He said it would be difficult for GM to justify building a new plant in Baltimore when it is faced with the prospect of closing assembly plants.

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