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GM starts retooling its Detroit plant for electric vehicles despite coronavirus

The last internal-combustion car produced at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant rolled off the production line on Feb. 20. That final 2020 Chevy Impala signaled the end of an era – and the beginning of the plant’s electric-car future. The work to begin retooling the production line for EVs started yesterday. Workers took precautions to protect themselves but were undaunted by the coronavirus.

See updates on EV plant closures to the coronavirus.

In February, roughly 800 workers stepped away from Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly for 12 to 18 months while the company retools. Many of them have the option to work at other GM plants in Michigan and Ohio during the changeover. But a stalwart group of about 70 skilled trades workers stayed on – and are now working on the retooling.

The Detroit Free Press reported that GM management and the union representing the workers held two meetings last week to devise safety protocols for how workers can protect themselves.

Before work began yesterday, workers were screened. They were given extensive forms to complete with questions about travel and their health conditions.


The last Chevrolet Impala comes off the production line at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant at 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2020.

Mike Plater, plant chairman of UAW Local 22 at Detroit-Hamtramck, said:

Things are being wiped down, and cleaning supplies are being made available. There’s definitely not panic, but a concern. I’ll have a better feel tomorrow about people and if they have hyper concerns about working.

Plater said that the much smaller workforce at the plant is allowing workers to keep a distance from one another. The mood is calm, with fewer people coming in and out of the building. Also, the cleaning staff is equipped with more supplies, while managers are expecting employees to keep their own areas clean and wiped down.

Plater said there’s been no call for a delay to the retooling of the plant.

GM is investing $2.2 billion to build all-electric vehicles at the plant. When it’s at full capacity, GM expects to employ 2,200 people there.

The GMC Hummer EV, GM’s first all-electric pickup, is scheduled to begin production at Detroit-Hamtramck in late 2021.

Electrek’s Take

We were there to witness the dedication of Detroit-Hamtramck as an EV facility. At that event, Mike Plater, the plant chairman of UAW Local 22, shared these heartfelt words:

I’d like to thank the membership of Local 22, who has been committed to building cars, whether it’s the end of the CT6 and the Impala, and definitely committed to building all-electric vehicles here. Every day, they come to work to do the right thing for General Motors and do the right thing for their families.

I just want to thank that membership out there, that comes to work every day no matter what it is, with their heads held high to build quality vehicles for General Motors.

We are going to do any and everything it takes to make this possible.

The coronavirus situation is changing every minute. Who knows if and when the workers at Detroit-Hamtramck will be asked to stay home? But for now, it’s remarkable to see them moving forward on the work to transform GM’s hometown plant for exclusively producing electric vehicles.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.