President Donald Trump anointed Workhorse Group Inc. as the savior of a General Motors plant in Ohio, but not everyone was celebrating last week.
The deal Trump described is far from concrete, and there are plenty of reasons to doubt that Workhorse could eventually employ thousands and fully utilize the 6.2-million-square-foot plant GM operated along the Ohio Turnpike from 1966 until about two months ago.
Concerns, including those by Ohio politicians eager for a solution to keep the plant's workers from having to find new jobs or move, are justified, given how previous plans for a startup, supplier or low-volume automaker to reuse a closed assembly plant in recent history have turned out.
Between 1979 and 2017, 278 of the 455 U.S. plants operated directly by automakers closed, according to data from the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Last year, the center estimated that 186 of those closed plants have been repurposed or are transitioning, while 92 remain unused. Nearly three-fourths of the closed plants were among the top three employers in their community.
The most successful modern example has been Tesla Inc. taking over the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant operated by the GM-Toyota Motor Corp. joint venture in Fremont, Calif. Toyota walked away from NUMMI in 2010, after GM decided while in bankruptcy protection to stop production there, and Tesla bought the plant a few months later for $42 million.
Tesla doesn't produce nearly as many vehicles in Fremont as Toyota and GM did, but it employs more than 10,000 people at the plant and even opened an auxiliary assembly line under a canopy in the parking lot after running out of space inside the building.
Another GM plant that found new life is in Moraine, Ohio, where SUV production ended in 2008. That allowed Chinese glass supplier Fuyao Glass Industry Group to enter the U.S. Fuyao moved into a portion of the plant in 2014 and now employs about 2,300 people there.
But other deals initially thought to be job savers haven't worked out.
In 2010, startup automaker Fisker Automotive ignited hope in Wilmington, Del., when it bought, with the help of federal funding, a plant GM had recently closed and announced a plan to build luxury plug-in hybrids there. But Fisker filed for bankruptcy in 2014, and ownership of the Wilmington plant transferred to Chinese company Wanxiang America when it acquired Fisker. The plant was later sold to a real-estate developer and is now being demolished to create a business, fulfillment and distribution campus.