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LORDSTOWN — Lordstown Motors Corp. is hiring high-tech staff to ready and retool its massive production facility to launch the Endurance this year, and will begin hiring its production workers in earnest between July and September.
The earliest hires will be tasked with building trucks that will be wrecked in crash tests, but the “major hire” will be in September, said Lordstown Motors CEO and founder Steve Burns, to populate the plant with at least 400 employees to start mass producing the battery-powered pickup truck.
The emphasis will be on bringing back ex-General Motors employees first for high-tech and production employees to tap their experience of working at the plant.
“First we’ll hire them a couple months ahead of time, and (they’ll) go through training because this vehicle is different than the Chevy Cruze they were building. But those folks, we’ll draw from the same pool. First and foremost the people we are going to look at for production are people who used to work here in production,” Burns said.
Burns and his executive staff Wednesday — the eve of the one-year anniversary of when the last Chevrolet Cruze came off the line in the plant — opened it to engage public officials and others, and let them tour the facility.
He also showed a video giving a secret glimpse of testing the Endurance, albeit with a donor body.
STAFF AND TRAINING
Burns said because of the learning curve involved with manufacturing the truck, he would like to model training after a collaboration between Volkswagen and Chattanooga State Community College that blends coursework in the classroom with experience in the automaker’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“Whether it’s in the plant here or whether it’s at the schools, we have to train them, and we think it’s a valuable job,” Burns said. “If people believe like we do that electric is the future, learning how to work and building electric vehicles is obviously a desired skill.”
The initial number of employees could be north of 400 because the company is locating its own battery pack plant and motor plant inside the facility. Lordstown Motors employs about 50 now.
Each battery pack contains 6,000 small cells. The packs will packaged in-house.
Attracting workers to the new manufacturer starts with those who severed ties with GM when it closed the facility in March. It expands to others who stayed on, but transferred to another GM plant.
“If somebody has moved away but kept their family here in the community, the strain that puts on them; we think we should be attractive to those folks, but we’re not sure because of the complexities of tenure and all that kind of stuff,” Burns said.
About 1,000 of the 1,500 workers at the plant when it stopped production took jobs elsewhere with the automaker.
Burns said Lordstown Motors’ human resources department has lists of both tiers of employees.
Also, company officials met for the first time with United Auto Workers representatives a couple weeks back. UAW Local 1112 represented the workers at Lordstown, but whether the new employees want to unionize is up to them.
“Wage wise, we intend to be very competitive to what anybody is making in an automotive plant in the United States,” Burns said.
PROOF OF LIFE
Burns showed a several-minute video of the truck going through its paces at a test track, but it was required that all cameras, including cellphone cameras, were shut off.
The test model — a finished Endurance underneath with Lordstown Motors’ software, drive train and chassis, but with a donor body — was shown speeding along a track, ascending a 15 percent grade muddy hill and motoring over bumps. Burns was the driver at the Eaton Proving Grounds in Michigan.
“In a lot of ways this whole business is like a kidnapping case, and we have to show proof of life,” Burns said. “Nobody believes, so we are doing little bits as we march toward production at the end of the year, little bits of belief.”
The Endurance will be revealed publicly at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in June.
“It will be the first time everyone will be able to see it, touch it and drive it,” Burns said.
INSIDE THE PLANT
After the public session, media was taken on a golf cart tour of the 6.2 million-square-foot facility, from the fabrication / stamping plant to assembly to the end of the line where finished vehicles roll off.
Ronald M. Trautzsch, director of stamping and body assembly, said the plant contains 850 robots. So far, about 200 have been activated to cycle through to validate their operation. Some robots weld, some handle material and some apply sealer. They will run through 1,000 cycles.
“We’re pleased we’re not seeing very many faults,” Trautzsch said. “GM did a very good job shutting down the plant, so we are at an advantage starting it back up.”
The stamping plant contains 2,200-ton and 1,500-ton presses that can stamp out 200 to 600 pieces per hour. Some were built in 2011 and installed in 2014, while others were refurbished in 2014.
Next week, Trautzsch said, the hydraulic pumps will be turned on and the presses put to work for a week. Happening this week, the cranes inside the stamping plant are being inspected for certification.
DAVID AND GOLIATH
“We are a little bit David and Goliath,” Burns said. “We are a small company trying to break into the Goliath world of automotive, but we are coming with a very unique product, a product like no other vehicle in the world.”
The truck, which has a starting price of $52,000 before various tax credits, has four moving parts — the hub motors. In comparison, Tesla has 70 or so moving parts, Burns said.
The Endurance can go up to 260 miles on a single full charge and can accelerate from zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds.
“We are a small company trying to enter a space (that) if you notice, there are no small car companies in the United States. Tesla broke through and is a public company in the space. Before Tesla, the last public car company in the United States was Willys Jeep in 1942 and they only did that because of the war. That is how hard it is to get into this space.”
The company expects within the next 30 days to announce the company that will provide the cells for the Endurance’s battery pack. Burns said Wednesday just that it is a major cell provider.
“We have been talking to all of the majors, and we are about to pick the one. We have been looking at all the strengths, weaknesses of all of them as we’re about to pick,” Burns said.