Tenn. GM dealers hope reopened Spring Hill plant boosts business
As General Motors prepares to re-open its Spring Hill, Tenn., assembly plant later this year to build the Chevrolet Equinox, nearby GM dealerships are hopeful they will soon see a surge in customers.
GM has recruited 60 team leaders and will be hiring about 685 people initially to work in the plant, according to Lee Ann Williams-Maley, a spokeswoman for the plant. She said about 330 of those hires are veteran workers returning from other GM plants where they were assigned in 2009 when the Tennessee plant was idled. The returning employees will retain their current top-tier hourly pay of about $29 while the new hires will be paid about $16, according to Reuters.
Amy Hutchison, general manager of Walker Chevrolet in Franklin, Tenn. --about 14 miles from the plant -- said she is optimistic that the re-opening will bring more sales for the dealership, which previously served many of the employees who made Saturn vehicles at the plant.
Employee plan business
Before the plant closed, Hutchison estimated, about 40 percent of Walker Chevrolet’s customers were GM employees. However, after the relocation of many workers, only about 25 percent of the dealer’s current sales are to buyers eligible for the GM discount, she said. Hutchison hopes she’ll reclaim lost customers.
Hutchison also hopes GM employees will make good customers on the “back end” of the dealership, buying parts and having vehicles serviced.
Hutchison noted the plant’s value in providing competition to Nissan, which has its North American headquarters in Franklin and a plant in Smyrna, about 30 miles from Spring Hill.
Tom Lucas, owner of Lucas Chevrolet-Cadillac in Columbia, Tenn., is equally pleased with the plant’s comeback. Even now, with the plant closed, Lucas said, 80 percent of his sales are to GM employees or their families.
“Over the years,” Lucas said, GM workers’ “families have moved to this area, and then their kids have grown up. They’ve married into the community.”
Lucas said it’s hard to find a local resident who is not related to a GM employee and able to use the discount.
Factory employees are such a big part of his business, Lucas said, that he has targeted marketing at the workers. He said GM employees are good customers because they tend to buy cars frequently.
Lucas said he hopes he can buy enough product to keep up with the influx of demand. He said he hopes to purchase a large supply of the Equinox, his most in-demand vehicle, which is slated to be made in the plant when it opens in the second half of this year.
While a surge in employee purchases should increase sales, Lucas said, the town’s pride in GM also will play a big role in boosting sales.
“The truth is, GM has contributed a lot to this community,” he said.
Applications coming in
While the Spring Hill plant’s Williams-Maley wouldn’t release a number, she said GM has received a lot of applications, including a significant amount of interest from residents in the area.
Mike Herron, bargaining chairman for UAW local 1853, also said demand to work at the plant is high. He credited the re-opening of the plant to teamwork between leaders at the UAW and GM, saying that in a similar situation nonunion companies would have left workers without a job.
Herron said the plant’s return has created a buzz among residents and business owners.
He said: “There’s not a place that I can go within a 40-mile radius of the plant where people won’t ask, ‘When you coming back online?’”
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