DETROIT -- After 68 years of arming the nation and putting America on wheels, the Willow Run manufacturing plant will close at the end of business today.
The 5-million-square-foot powertrain plant, owned by Motors Liquidation Corp., the remnants of the former General Motors Corp., has fallen victim to GM's 2009 bankruptcy and subsequent restructuring.
About 300 workers left at the plant will either “retire, transfer to another campus or go on layoff,” said Chris Lee, a spokesman for the reorganized General Motors Co.
Workers built the last powertrain there Dec. 15.
This month the reorganized GM offered buyouts for skilled trade workers at Willow Run and 12 other plants. The offer, which expires March 1, 2011, gives these workers $60,000 to retire or leave the company. GM spokeswoman Kim Carpenter said they are not sure yet how many workers have taken the buyout.
GM acquired the plant in Ypsilanti Township from automaker Kaiser-Fraser Corp. in 1953. The purchase came after an August fire destroyed GM's Livonia “Hydra-Matic” plant. Within three months, its first automatic transmissions were being built.
Most recently, the plant has been supplying transmissions for the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and components for other facilities.
Just over a decade ago, the plant had more than 5,000 workers and produced nearly 22,000 component parts daily. At the time of GM's bankruptcy, staffing had dropped to 1,364 workers.
But Willow Run is perhaps most famous for its original incarnation as Henry Ford's B-24 Liberator bomber plant during World War II.
The Willow Run plant, which was built on farmland owned by Henry Ford, supplied U.S. government with military aircrafts after President Franklin D. Roosevelt's push toward American involvement in the war.
The first B-24 bomber came off the line in October 1942. At its 1944 peak, the who shattered the stereotype that the factory floor was a male-only province.
Kaiser-Fraser bought the plant from Ford Motor Co. in 1945 to make cars and farm equipment.
The building was named a state historic site by Gov. William Milliken in 1980.
Tim Yost, a spokesman for Motors Liquidation, said that if the Willow Run plant is not sold by the end of this year, a trust will inherit ownership of the building.
As part of the bankruptcy process, four such trusts are being established to control any leftover General Motors Corp. properties.
“The trusts are supposed to be in place by the first quarter 2011,” said Yost, adding: “Big plants like these are hard to sell even in good economic times.”