(Note: Updates, expands earlier post)
SPRING HILL, Tenn. (AP) — General Motors announced Monday it will start building the Chevrolet Equinox at its idled Tennessee plant and will also make midsized vehicles there in the future.
Monday’s announcement of a total $244 million investment over two phases is projected to create nearly 1,900 jobs at the former Saturn plant outside Nashville.
The automaker said it initially will invest $61 million and create nearly about 700 jobs to begin making the Equinox by the second half of 2012. Sales of the crossover are up 45 percent this year to more than 162,000, according to Autodata Corp.
An additional $183 million to make unspecified midsized vehicles for the 2015 model year is projected to create another 1,200 jobs. GM officials wouldn’t divulge more specifics.
“We don’t like to tip our hand to the competition,” said Cathy Clegg, GM’s vice president for labor relations.
The company said the investment in the plant will place it among the world’s most flexible auto-making facilities, allowing GM to respond to changing demand for a variety of models.
“This flexibility will mean that customers who want our best-selling products won’t have to wait,” Clegg said.
More than 2,000 workers were laid off after GM announced it would halt production of the Chevrolet Traverse at the plant in 2009.
Elected officials stressed the benefits to the local economy, while union leaders hailed Monday’s decision as a success for collective bargaining rights.
United Auto Workers members in Spring Hill voted in September to ratify a four-year contract with the General Motors Co. after company officials said they would once again start automobile production at the plant.
Under the new contract, GM can have as many entry-level, $15-an-hour workers as it wants, but after 2015 only 25 percent of the factory workers can be paid the lower wage. UAW President Bob King said union members sacrificed wage and other demands to ensure jobs would be kept in the United States.
“These jobs in Spring Hill are symbolic of everything we did in these negotiations,” said UAW President Bob King.
Autoworkers cheered at Monday’s event as union and company officials pressed a button to ceremonially relaunch the line at the plant. They also booed and heckled U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who had opposed bailouts for the auto industry.
Retired autoworker Don Lockhart, 63, confronted Corker after the ceremony about the senator’s stance on organized labor. But Corker was dismissive of the criticism.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Corker said.