General Motors Co. on Thursday unveiled one of its most substantial manufacturing investments since emerging from bankruptcy production, committing nearly a half billion dollars to production of the next generation of its Ecotec engine.
Most of that — about $425 million — will go to the Tonawanda engine plant near Buffalo, which will make 370,000 of the four-cylinder engines per year and add 470 jobs.
GM's Defiance, Ohio, block production plant will get $59 million in upgrades and gain 80 jobs. An additional 17 jobs will be created in Bay City, Mich., where a connecting rod will be produced following a $10.5 million investment, company officials said.
GM made the announcement at the Tonawanda plant, which 20 years ago employed 4,350 people but is down to about 650 employees after shutting down two engine lines last year as part of the automaker's bankruptcy restructuring.
"It's only been about eight months since GM was in bankruptcy. We were wondering whether we were going to survive or not, to be honest with you," said Steve Finch, the plant's manager. "Now we're here today talking about this kind of investment and these kinds of jobs coming right here to western New York, and I couldn't be happier."
Sen. Charles Schumer said it showed the government was right to pour money into General Motors and Chrysler last year to keep them afloat.
"I remember hearing those naysayers. They said the auto industry is dead, it's never going to be here in America. We ought to give up on manufacturing," the New York Democrat said.
"We were right to rescue GM and today shows that proof positive," Schumer said to cheers from workers on the manufacturing floor.
"Let this day be the last that we talk about the end of manufacturing in America," said U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, who was also among a cadre of elected officials that included Gov. David Paterson and Reps. Louise Slaughter and Chris Lee.
The current Ecotec 2.4L engine, with direct fuel injection, is used in the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain. The next generation engines, expected to go into production in 2012, will have improved fuel efficiency and performance through additional technology, the company said.
"The investment in state-of-the-art, four-cylinder engines is another example of GM's commitment to replace larger displacement engines with more compact, advanced four-cylinder engines that optimize fuel savings and performance," said Denise Johnson, vice president of labor relations.
UAW Local 774 chairman Bob Coleman called the investment "monumental" for the New York plant, a sentiment shared by those on the floor.
"The way production was over the last year, I thought if we're going to keep the plant open, we've got to bring something else in here," said Tony Jakiel, a 37-year employee.
About 300 workers on indefinite layoff from the New York plant will have hiring preference for the new jobs, spokeswoman Nina Price said, followed by GM employees laid off elsewhere.
GM said in December it will spend $700 million at eight Michigan facilities to get its rechargeable Chevrolet Volt electric car road-ready.
In January, the company announced it would invest $246 million to build electric motors at its White Marsh, Md., plant and made its first mass-produced electric car battery at its Brownstown Battery Pack Assembly plant in Michigan.
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