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Ford and GM flex momentum at Buffalo Auto Show

An engine born at the GM Tonawanda Plant greets visitors at the 2011 Buffalo Auto Show.
Nick Gunner
An engine born at the GM Tonawanda Plant greets visitors at the 2011 Buffalo Auto Show.

There’s a sense that American automakers have turned the corner.

Just ask factory folks from Ford and General Motors, who are showing off their latest wares at the Buffalo Auto Show this week.

Sure, there are new vehicles polished from hood to tire, but this year the event pushes the narrative that domestic automobile manufacturing is back, as both companies’ western New York facilities prepare to hire and increase production.

General Motors

Since 2010, GM has pledged to spend over $430 million in two phases to modernize its Tonawanda engine plant. Implementing that investment, which includes new engine lines for a number of vehicle models, is nearly complete.

Thus, hiring will commence soon, says Bob Coleman, shop chairman for United Auto Workers Local 774.

“By April we’ll have all of our laid off people back, which is about 90 people,” Coleman says.

Since building these new assembly lines has taken the better part of two years, some western New York GM employees were sent company plants in Lordstown, Kansas City and others around North America.  

“We’ll be bringing probably about 200 to 300 people into our plant that were laid off by other facilities. They left their families here. Bringing them home, it’s a great feeling,” says Coleman. “And hopefully [GM will add] new ‘social security numbers’, which are new people from the street, into our plant.”

The workers will bring to life a re-tooled line of engines for the Chevrolet Malibu, Equinox, Colorado, Buick Verano, Cadillac ATS and GMC Canyon.

The GM Tonawanda plant, which opened in 1937 and has grown to 3.1 million square-feet of floor space, is also undergoing a facelift. Crews are currently sprucing up the façade, replacing windows and improving insulation.

“And that shows that we’ll be staying there, because it’s a huge investment,” Coleman says.


Ford’s fortunes also look promising in 2012 thanks to strong 2011.

Ford sales soared 25 percent in western New York last year, compared to 10 percent nationwide, meaning the automaker gained significant market share.

Demand for two Ford models partly manufactured at the Buffalo Stamping Plant, the Flex and Fusion, are to credit for the sales jump, says John Schuldt, a regional sales manager.

“There’s a certain segment of the population that if you say, ‘This was built in Buffalo or born in Buffalo or there’s Buffalo workers involved in this, these people will buy that product,’ ” Schuldt says. “Western New York is very loyal to domestic products. Our research here shows that people respond if they know they’re supporting a local business.”

While not offering specifics, Schuldt says hiring at the Buffalo-area facility should commence soon.

Both GM and Ford are making a special effort showing off the fruit of local labor at the Buffalo Auto Show, which runs through February 12.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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