General Motors is behaving like its bankruptcy crisis never happened – and no, that doesn’t mean it’s reverted to making badly built cars with serious safety issues. For the first time in years, the General is back in fighting shape, and it’s making key investments in hopes of reclaiming its former title as the world’s largest automaker. After holding on to that distinction for 77 years, decades of weak product lines and mismanagement plunged the corporation into bankruptcy, and today, it ranks third among global automakers behind Toyota and Volkswagen. After recently pledging $12 billion over the next five years to turn Cadillac into a legitimate BMW fighter, the corporation has turned its attention even closer to home, and proposed a $1 billion plan to renovate, upgrade, and expand the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan, just outside of Detroit.
Opened in 1956, the Tech Center was hailed as a center of cutting-edge technology. With buildings designed by the legendary architect Eero Saarinen, and christened at a ribbon-cutting ceremony by President Dwight Eisenhower, the 710-acre complex houses everything from GM’s design center to manufacturing plants. But analysts say that the majority of the Tech Center remains largely unchanged from when it opened nearly 60 years ago, and its age has become glaringly apparent as the automotive landscape continues to evolve.
While the plan signals GM’s renewed focus on product development, it’s also very good news for Detroit’s economy. The expansion is expected to create anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 new jobs, with a focus on information technology, electrical engineering, and software development. Speaking with the Lansing State Journal, GM Product Development chief Mark Reuss said that these new jobs will continue the corporation’s trend of creating more American jobs. “We were chasing low-wage markets with engineers and that was a big mistake,” Reuss said. “It was assumed off-shore people could have the same capability of people who actually had the experience of engineering many cycles of something that required deep expertise.”
The ambitious proposal comes a year after Toyota announced plans for a new $300 million U.S. headquarters in Plano, Texas, and Volkswagen announced a $7 billion plan to expand its North American footprint. While all three automakers see China as the key player in their plans for growth, the American market has been experiencing its strongest auto sales in years, and success in the market is still seen as essential to every major automaker. By insuring that the Tech Center lives up to its name, GM is bringing world-class product development resources back to Detroit, and sending a clear signal that it’s committed to staying competitive on the home front.
Six years after its bankruptcy and restructuring, GM’s recent investments show that it’s ready to rejoin the fight in a very real way. For six decades, developments at the Tech Center have been the cornerstone for almost every GM model sold in the U.S., and its willingness to invest in the complex is a strong sign that it’s through with the “business as usual” attitude that plagued the corporation for so long. Nearly 60 years ago, the GM Tech Center was considered a marvel of its age, and a reflection of GM’s place as the most advanced automaker in the world. By updating the complex for the 21st century, GM hopes that a modernized Tech Center can help it on its final push from underdog to world leader.
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