General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck and Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plants are reportedly in play as part of the ongoing contract negotiations between GM and the United Auto Workers union, whose roughly 49,000 members nationwide went on strike against the automaker at just after midnight Monday morning. It’s a development that offers a glimmer of hope for one of GM’s better cars, the Cadillac CT6, which has been slated to be discontinued.
GM has been in the process of winding down the Hamtramck plant’s operations, but reportedly offered to keep it open to build an electric pickup truck there as part of last-minute bargaining just before UAW workers hit the picket lines, according to the Associated Press. Hamtramck, which is the only remaining automotive assembly plant within Detroit’s borders, had been previously classified as “unallocated” for future product when GM announced budget cuts of around $6 billion earlier this year to take effect by the end of 2019. Along with the reported Hamtramck concession, GM is also said to have pledged to build a battery plant next to the Lordstown factory. The automaker has been in negotiations to sell Lordstown, which opened in 1966, to The Workhorse Group, a startup that wants to build an EV pickup of its own there.
By the end of April 2019, GM had transferred 593 workers from Detroit-Hamtramck to other factories, as the plant assembled the last Chevrolet Volts and Buick LaCrosses there. But 700 workers remain to assemble Cadillac CT6 and Chevy Impala sedans.
Here’s where it gets interesting for enthusiasts. GM just built a small run of the 2019 Cadillac CT6-V, a $90,000-plus full-size sport sedan with Cadillac’s all-new, hand-built 4.2-liter twin-turbo “Blackwing” V-8 rated for 550 horsepower and 640 lb-ft of torque. But by the time I got to drive the 2019 Cadillac CT6-V and its CT6 Platinum sibling with a slightly detuned version of Blackwing, the car was scheduled to end production when the Hamtramck plant closed in January 2020. GM brass said it could not find another assembly plant to build the CT6, including versions powered by the milder 500-hp Blackwing or GM’s 3.6-liter and twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6s.
Since it went on sale for the 2017 model year, the CT6 has claimed the mantle as Cadillac’s flagship. Without it, Cadillac again retrenches from plans to gradually grow its reputation as a direct competitor for the German luxury brands.
Any future for the CT6 hinges on negotiations with the UAW about what happens with Detroit-Hamtramck, though at this stage of the talks, there are too many variables in play to predict the car’s ultimate fate. It’s obviously a sufficiently flexible plant to have once accommodated big Chevy, Buick, and Cadillac sedans as well as the electrified Volt (the Cadillac ELR was also briefly built there). For sure, initial volumes for a GM EV pickup from Detroit-Hamtramck would be low, but will the contract call for the plant’s current employment level of 700 UAW members, or would it be closer to the 1,300 it once had?
That question is tied into other, more substantive points of negotiation. The UAW wants GM to reduce or eliminate its temporary worker program, which allows the company to adjust production levels to better match the ebb and flow of certain models.
Even after all the efficiencies GM realized after the 2009 bankruptcy, when UAW and salaried workers alike suffered major cuts as the company restructured, the U.S. auto industry was left with too much capacity. The industry is underutilized by about 3 million units, the Center for Automotive Research’s Kristin Dziczek told NPR. GM accounts for 1 million of that. Lordstown, for example, had the capacity to annually build 400,000 units of the recently dropped Chevy Cruze. It wouldn’t have been a bad call for GM to withhold any offers to keep open any plants not allocated for new products.
Conversely, GM posted a $10.8-billion pretax profit for 2018, and there’s no better time for the UAW to get what it can out of the automaker (as well as Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, when they generally fall into line after the model is set by the strike target). But like every other major automaker, GM is preparing for a future in which fat pickup truck and SUV profits will be devoured by the cost of bringing electric and semi-autonomous vehicles to market. The burgeoning UAW scandal, in which a federal investigation has extended all the way up to union president Dennis Williams, gives GM a bit of an edge this time.
No matter what happens, I predict this will be the last old-line, traditional contract negotiations between a U.S. automaker and the UAW. While fate of the Cadillac CT6 is a trivial piece of the high stakes bargaining now taking place, from an enthusiast perspective at least, its continued production could do a lot to improve the reputation of GM’s luxury division.