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Electric-vehicle startup to retool Lordstown plant

LORDSTOWN — Lordstown Motors Corp. CEO Steve Burns — the man trying to breathe new life into General Motors’ former Lordstown assembly plant — said his electric vehicle startup has been working two parallel tracks to return automobile manufacturing to the massive facility.

“One has been in full throttle for about a year. That is the engineering on the truck and getting ready for all of the regulatory and crash testing and all of the things that have to go on with the recipe of the truck,” Burns said.

Now what starts in earnest is retooling the plant to build the Endurance pickup truck, a full-size commercial fleet pickup, to meet an ambitious production start date of late 2020.

“We retained an incredible group of automotive folks that will now start to retool and kind of reconfigure the plant for our purposes … It’s a large plant and we’re going to grow into it so to produce less than 500,000 vehicles a year, you have to reconfigure it, but you don’t want to do anything that would hamper from us growing into it,” Burns said.

Burns spoke with The Vindicator on Friday — one day after GM figuratively handed over the keys, “well the electronic badge” for the 6.2 million-square-foot plant that stopped producing the Chevrolet Cruze in March.

The asset transfer finalized Thursday for $20 million, according to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. The sale includes all of the equipment inside the building.

Thursday also was the day when it was announced that Cincinnati-based electric delivery truck manufacturer Workhorse Group Inc., which Burns founded, and Lordstown Motors announced a licensing agreement that lets Lordstown Motors use some of Workhorse’s technology in exchange for a 10 percent stake in the company and other financial terms.

Burns said his vision is to transform the plant on Hallock Young Road into a “hub,” and “epicenter” of electric vehicle production.

“Our electric motor maker, we want them to set up their line inside of our building. The same with the wiring harness folks and (battery) cell maker, whether it’s in our property or somewhere in Lordstown” Burns said.

He likened the scenario to the ecosystem that surrounded the GM plant, using Lordstown Seating Systems as the example. Its facility, where seats for the Chevrolet Cruze were produced, was nearby the plant.

Burns said he could not discuss how much money it would take to repurpose the plant to prepare it for the 2020 launch since Lordstown Motors is a privately held company. It’s been reported the figure is $300 million.

“To get that done in time is lightning fast. We’ve been in the plant several times during the course of negotiations, we know what we are dealing with and we’ve got preliminary plans, but you’ll see a lot of activity there. We have to bring in consulting firms, robot reprogramming firms, all of the things that it takes to get this done in a timely fashion,” he said.

“We designed the vehicle with the plant in mind so we didn’t want to design anything the plant couldn’t build,” Burns said.

Signs outside the building, including the large Cruze vinyl sign on the southern side of the building, will be down sometime in the next 60 days and replaced with Lordstown Motors signs.

GM idled the plant March 6, the first of three facilities closed as it shifts production toward trucks, SUVs and electric vehicles. The plant most recently produced the Chevrolet Cruze sedan — once one of Chevrolet’s best-selling vehicles — but has produced multiple vehicles in its five-plus decades, including the Chevrolet Cobalt, Cavalier, Impala, Vega and a van. It also produced several Pontiac vehicles.

There was hope by many that recent contract talks between the United Auto Workers and GM would yield a new vehicle production line for the plant, but those hopes were killed when on Oct. 16 the sides announced a tentative contract agreement that didn’t have a new line, but allowed GM to proceed with formally shuttering the plant.

The announcement that GM was in talks to sell the plant to an unnamed buyer affiliated with Workhorse came in May. It later was revealed that Lordstown Motors was the potential buyer.

The plant would employ 400 at first.

The agreement with Workhorse also provides the opportunity to transfer 6,000 existing preorders received by Workhorse for its W-15 prototype to Lordstown Motors.

That has the potential for about $300 million in revenue for the company, which posted an $11.5 million net operating loss for the third quarter of this year.

Workhorse also would receive 1 percent of the gross sale price of each Lordstown Motors truck sold through the first 200,000. The agreement is for three years.

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