Lordstown Motors to debut electric truck against backdrop of presidential campaign

Lordstown, Ohio —  Electric vehicle startup Lordstown Motors Corp. on Thursday debuted its battery-powered Endurance pickup truck.

The premiere comes against the backdrop of the presidential campaign, with Vice President Mike Pence making a campaign stop there for the debut, piggybacking on the previously scheduled event.

The $52,500 Endurance has an electric motor at each wheel, with no transmission or axles, making it easier to build and maintain. Lordstown Motors claims the truck can go 250 miles on a full charge and get the equivalent of 75 miles per gallon.

When President Donald Trump held a rally Youngstown in the summer of 2017, he told a crowd of thousands not to sell their houses because he would bring back lost manufacturing jobs to the former steel town.

Two-and-a-half years later, General Motors Co. shut down its assembly plant in nearby Lordstown, dealing yet another blow to the Mahoning Valley’s economy and forcing many to sell their homes and relocate.

Lordstown Motors is the new owner of GM’s Lordstown Assembly plant now has a new owner with plans to mass-produce the Endurance.

 “Today is another example of President Trump’s commitment to make America manufacturing great again,” Pence told the crowd of about 100.

 “Today is another example of President Trump’s commitment to make America manufacturing great again,” Pence said.

The new Lordstown Motors plant initially will employ 400. That’s a far cry from the 4,500 hourly workers who were building the Chevrolet Cruze in 2016 before the slow-selling sedan was axed from the lineup. But the future is looking brighter to some in the area as they watch Lordstown Motors take shape and GM start to develop land nearby for a new battery-cell manufacturing plant that will employ more than 1,100.

The Endurance is being introduced the same day as Ford Motor Co.’s next-generation F-150.

The F-150 is the ultimate mass-market vehicle, year after year outselling every offering in the United States. In contrast, the Endurance is aimed at fleet customers such as utility companies.

SERVPRO, a fire and water restoration company servicing Ohio and Pennsylvania, in June signed a letter of intent to purchase 1,200 trucks. Electric utility company FirstEnergy plans to buy 250.

Focusing on fleet customers could play to Lordstown Motors’ advantage because “it does feel like the consumer space is getting pretty crowded,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com, noting the coming of Tesla’s Cybertruck and the GMC Hummer EV. 

“There could be a bit of an opportunity in the commercial market,” Caldwell said. “For someone that’s a little less well-known among the American public, that could be a better avenue for success. That said, I think all the other electric truck makers will also want a piece of that market, so there still will be competition.” 

Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns told The Detroit News in March he was on track to raise the $400 million in capital he needed to get the plant going. The 6.2-million-square-foot facility once rolled out more than 400,000 Cruzes in a year, but Burns said previously he is shooting first for 20,000 units in 2021. He expects to be at 200,000 annually in under four years.

Burns says he named the Endurance for the character of the blue-collar toughness of the people in the valley who have endured the closing of the steel mills and the auto plant.

The Endurance may be a symbol of the future in Lordstown, but that doesn’t mean everyone forgets the past.  

“Obviously for the economy of the Mahoning Valley, everyone hopes it becomes a success along with that proposed battery plant … but on the same token we lost 5,000 jobs directly and thousands more indirectly when GM unjustly stopped building the Cruze,” said Tim O’Hara, who worked at the GM plant for 41 years and is still president of United Auto Workers Local 1112 that represented Lordstown Assembly. 

O’Hara had to sell his home when his wife transferred to GM’s Corvette plant in Kentucky.

“For the valley, hopefully it gets off its feet and they start building the electric pickups there,” he said. “But we still have bitterness about GM leaving the valley and all of our people either having to transfer or find other means of employment.”

Jeremy Ladd, 43, worked at Lordstown Assembly for more than 20 years. He accepted a transfer last August to GM’s truck plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He’s still has a house in northeast Ohio and commutes back and forth to see his wife, Leah, and their 8-year-old twin girls. They plan is to sell their Ohio home this year after Leah finishes nursing school.

Ladd sees Pence’s campaign stop in Lordstown on Thursday as a way for the Trump administration to “puff out their chest and say ‘Hey, look what we did.'”

“They are going to do a victory lap when really it’s anything but,” Ladd said. “The area just died a little bit. The Rust Belt got a little more rust on it and they are going to act like this is a victory.”

khall@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bykaleahall

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