Production of the Chevrolet Impala was supposed to be the last hoorah for General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant. While the end of the Impala fits into a larger narrative of American car companies moving away from four-door sedans, it also spells the next chapter for the local plant nicknamed ‘Poletown.’
Once set to close for good, the facility was given a new lease on life during contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers Union last year. The new collective bargaining deal promised to modernize the site to build an all-electric truck — later revealed to be carrying the Hummer nameplate.
“It was important to save jobs in Detroit and save that plant. And it is a huge investment.” - Michelle Krebs, Autotrader
Now that the final Impala sedan has rolled off the line, the Detroit-Hamtramck facility will be retooled to make a Hummer EV.
WDET’s Alex McLenon spoke with Autotrader executive automotive analyst Michelle Krebs about American manufacturers continued move away from sedans and what’s next for GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant.
Click on the player above to hear the interview with Autotrader’s Michelle Krebs, and read excerpts, edited for length and clarity, below.
Alex McLenon, 101.9 WDET: The last Impala has rolled off the line at General Motor’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant. A lot of car companies in the American market have been going away from sedans. General Motors has Buick and Cadillac still, but what is their position with sedans right now?
Michelle Krebs, AutoTrader: General Motors has been reducing the number of sedan models that it offers. The Chevrolet Impala was among them. It still has some but I think we’ll probably see a little bit more trimming. Sedans are not doing that well in the market. They now represent under 30% of all new vehicles sold, while pickup trucks and sport utilities are 70% and that use to be the complete opposite. So they are getting their offerings in line with where the market is going.
And the other thing that’s significant about this – that’s the last internal combustion, gasoline powered vehicle to roll off the line at the Detroit-Hamtramck as well. That plant now will be converted to make electric vehicles.
And it’s interesting to me, or at least amusing to me, that they’re using that Hummer mark. Because for a long time the Hummer was, at least in my mind, kind of the poster child for the anti-environmentalism vehicle. But now bringing it back as an electric truck, what is that going to mean for General Motors?
Well the Hummer brand name is very well known and General Motors has always owned it, even though they had to eliminate the brand selling separately through its own franchise system. But they’re bringing that back on basically as a version of a GMC model. Yes, the Hummer had always been known as not a very environmental vehicle, but GM had experimented in the past. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California he had actually talked about it being a [hydrogen] fuel cell vehicle which would’ve been extremely environmentally friendly. So there have been sprinkles of that through its history, but it is quite a change-up.
And to convert the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, it’s a $2.2 billion investment, which is pretty substantial. Originally that plant was set to close and then it came during the contract negotiation with the UAW that it would be used for electric vehicles. $2.2 billion certainly doesn’t just come out of thin air. Do you think collective bargaining really made a difference there, or was this always somewhere on the table for General Motors?
Well it’s hard to say. I was never convinced that plant would close completely especially since it’s a local plant, but certainly there was some bargaining that went back and forth. It was important to save jobs in Detroit and save that plant. And it is a huge investment. $2 billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at and it will be very high tech, producing a high tech vehicle. So it’s a feather in the cap of the plant and for the workers.
Production for that Hummer is suppose to start in fall of 2021. Is that a competitive time window for where the rest of the market is at?
That’s about the time that all of the electric trucks that have been announced publicly so far, are all coming out right around the same time. So there will be a lot of them to choose from. And again it’s a question of are there buyers for those? No one has ever sold an electric pickup truck and it’s not clear there’s a market for them. Certainly electric vehicles have struggled to have any kind of impact on sales in the US. So we’ll see if a truck will do it.