Given Mitsubishi’s low U.S. output, it was not totally surprising to hear the Japanese automaker will end production at its plant in Normal, Ill.
More surprising was hearing company officials say that they have several prospects to buy Normal, including a Detroit automaker. For the sake of the plant’s 900 workers, I hope they do.
But I’m skeptical. Unless Mitsubishi finds a non-automotive buyer, a sale would run counter to the major trends in North American plant location.
Let’s tick off the boxes. Normal is:
- In the United States
- In the industrial Midwest
How many plants in recent years have gone to that kind of site?
Asian and European automakers tend to favor the Southeast, where they avoid UAW representation of employees. And even U.S. automakers -- as Donald Trump so astutely pointed out -- are adding capacity in Mexico.
Automakers may house engineering operations in southeast Michigan, as Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and even Mahindra have done, to take advantage of the region’s engineering talent. Non-U.S. brands tend to put design studios in California, still the place to catch the first wave of U.S. trends.
But cost of labor is a key factor in plant-siting decisions. That doesn’t favor Normal.
Add to that a number of shuttered Detroit 3 plants left over from the recession, and you don’t exactly have a seller’s market.