GM plans $30 million upgrade

WENTZVILLE, Mo. -- General Motors will spend about $30 million to upgrade its St. Louis-area manufacturing plant over the next two years, the company said Tuesday.

No new jobs will be created, but GM vice president and general manager of Manufacturing Joe Spielman said the move helps ensure that jobs will remain at the plant, which makes full-sized Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans.

"The men and women of Wentzville have shown what it takes to build the best van in the world," Spielman said during a ceremony at the plant, which is about 40 miles west of St. Louis.

The money will be spent on installing two new presses. Used in the first stage of production, the presses turn sheet metal into roofs, doors, hoods and other van parts. Spielman said the upgrade will improve quality and speed up production.

United Autoworkers International representative Donnie Douglas said the commitment was a tribute to the 2,580 workers at the plant.

"In this day and age with General Motors, $30 million is a lot of money," he said.

The average Missouri autoworker earns $53,117, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development. By comparison, the average Missourian earns $34,855.

Missouri ranks third nationally in auto assembly, producing about 11 percent of the nation's automobiles. Only Michigan (22 percent) and Ohio (15 percent) produce more.

Gov. Matt Blunt met earlier this summer with GM officials in Detroit to discuss efforts to improve the business climate in Missouri, including his quality jobs initiative and litigation reform.

"It is clear that Missouri is committed to the auto industry, and with one of the best work forces in the world, we welcome the new opportunities presented by this investment by GM," Blunt said.

GM opened the Wentzville plant in 1983. The plant produced 173,600 vans last year.

The announcement in Wentzville comes at a time when GM, which lost $286 million in the second quarter, plans to close plants around the country and shed 25,000 U.S. jobs over the next three years.

Ford and DaimlerChrysler also operate plants in the St. Louis area. Ford has cut back in the region while DaimlerChrysler announced an expansion last year.

Ford initially had planned to close its Hazelwood plant completely following an announcement in 2002. The company reversed its decision in September 2003, agreeing as part of its latest contract with the United Auto Workers to keep the site open at least through 2007.

Last year, Ford shut down one line at the plant, where the sport utility vehicles Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer and Lincoln Aviator are built. About 800 workers lost their jobs.

In June 2004, DaimlerChrysler announced plans to invest $113 million into its facility in Fenton in southwest St. Louis County. The company is expanding production of minivans with its "Stow 'n Go" seating-and-storage system. All models with Stow 'n Go were previously manufactured in Windsor, Ontario.

On the 'Net: