SPRING HILL, Tenn. (Reuters) -- General Motors said today it would begin making the Chevrolet Equinox small sport-utility vehicle at its Spring Hill, Tenn., plant in the second half of 2012, with a $61 million investment. The work will add 685 jobs, 91 of which are salaried.
UAW President Bob King said the return of assembly work at the plant for the first time since 2009 was an example of the cooperation between the union and automakers.
King said he would highlight the expansion of work at Spring Hill as he continues attempts to organize non-union Japanese, German and South Korean auto plants located mainly in the U.S. South.
"Spring Hill has a history as one of GM's most innovative and flexible plants," said Cathy Clegg, head of labor relations for the No. 1 U.S. automaker.
Broad outlines of plans for the expanded work were announced in September when GM and the UAW reached a four-year labor deal. A hallmark of that agreement was new work at several plants, including Spring Hill, instead of raises for veteran union auto workers.
The second phase of the Spring Hill plant's expansion will be the addition of a yet-unnamed mid-sized vehicle by 2014 for the 2015 model year, GM said. It will hire some 1,196 workers who will begin work in 2013 for that product.
GM said it would invest $183 million for that product at Spring Hill.
Of the total of 1,881 jobs to be filled at the Tennessee plant, 1,684 will be UAW-represented workers.
The nearly 400 workers GM has on layoff will get the first chance to fill the Spring Hill jobs and new posts opening at its Wentzville, Mo., plant, said company spokeswoman Kimberly Carpenter.
The new hires will receive hourly pay of nearly $16, compared with about $29 for veteran assembly workers. The second-tier pay is to rise to about $19 per hour over the four years of the labor deal.
GM first signaled in January 2010 that Spring Hill might reopen as an assembly plant, but it was not until this summer's labor negotiations with the UAW that the plans were announced.
Spring Hill was put on "idled" status in 2009 when GM shut 14 plants as it went through bankruptcy. It lost its assembly line production that year, but remained open mainly as an engine plant, and employed about 1,000 workers.
In its heyday as the center of production for the Saturn brand of cars and SUVs, the Spring Hill plant employed more than 8,000 workers.
GM now uses two Ontario plants to make the Equinox. Both are running on three shifts.
Supplies of the Equinox and its platform sibling, the GMC Terrain, have been tight since their introductions, despite several attempts by GM to increase output.
Since September 2010, GM has been shuttling Equinox bodies built at its CAMI Automotive plant about 125 miles to its Oshawa, Ontario, plant for final assembly. GM executives have said it's a creative solution to boost production.
CAW President Ken Lewenza told Automotive News he’s concerned that Spring Hill production could sap volumes at the CAMI and Oshawa plants, especially if sales eventually drop.
“They’ve told us not to worry, but we do worry,” Lewenza said.
In the CAW’s contract negotiations with GM next year, Lewenza says he’ll push for the CAMI plant to be designated as the “primary” plant for Equinox production, which would give CAMI the edge should volumes decline.
Clegg told reporters today that Spring Hill's Equinox production won't affect operations at either Canadian plant for the foreseeable future. She also said that it's possible that GM will use Spring Hill as an overflow plant for other hot-selling GM vehicles.
Through October, GM had sold 163,200 Equinoxes in the United States, up 45 percent from a year earlier.
Terrain sales were up 54 percent, to 69,801.
GM had 24,100 Equinox in inventory as of Nov. 1, or a 41-day supply. That's up from a 35-day supply on Oct. 1. Supplies of the Terrain rose to 62 from 49 days during that period, to 15,100 units.
Mike Colias contributed to this report