Auto industry undergoing change; analyst says GM is getting ready

WARREN — The automotive industry is trending toward fully electric vehicles, larger trucks and SUVs, and new technology — and local manufacturers like General Motors must adjust, an industry analyst said Monday.

The predictions from industry analyst Jeremy Acevendo came on the heels of GM’s corporate realignment that includes eliminating operations at its Lordstown complex.

The auto industry trend, according to Acevendo, manager of Industry Analysis at Edmunds.com, a leader in automotive news, has automakers racing to perfect non-combustion engines.

GM fell in line with that goal when it announced last year its plans to be fully electric as soon as 2023.

Monday, the Detroit-based auto giant outlined details that included cutting up to 14,000 workers in North America and putting five plants — including the Lordstown complex — up for possible closure as it abandons many of its car models and restructures to focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles.

Electrification seems to be the future of the industry, Edmunds.com’s Acevendo said. “If this technology takes off, the industry will be looking at a different landscape.”

At the same time, American consumers have been moving in record numbers trucks and SUVs — and away from small cars like the Lordstown-built Chevy Cruze.

“Cruze sales have been falling year after year,” Acevendo said. “The move towards trucks is reflective of the times, and GM not wanting to buoy sales.”

A need for new technology to accommodate these trends has led GM to develop new technology to replace combustion engines.

With the future of the automotive industry in flux, local plants will need to find a way to capitalize on these changes. Acevendo said there may be an immediate opportunity for some plants to be re-allocated to vehicles and technologies that speak to today’s market.

Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber President and CEO James Dignan said Monday he remains hopeful the Lordstown plant might be revitalized by new technology.

Other trends affecting the auto industry include a decrease in need for personal vehicles and the advent of autonomous vehicles.

Ride share programs such as Uber and Lyft have reduced individual cars. “Personal ownership might not be the end all, be all,” said Acevendo, adding that people are more interested in getting where they need to go than how they get there.

There also is growing interest autonomous cars.

The Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program, created this year by Gov. John Kasich, allows automated cars on the roads in willing Ohio communities. Athens, Columbus and Dublin are among the cities participating in the program. Youngstown, Cleveland and Dayton also expressed interest.

“The future of the automotive industry is uncertain right now,” said Acevendo. “GM and other vehicle manufacturers are getting ready for the next chapter.”

Whatever the future may be, the Valley has to position itself to take advantage of automotive innovations. “The work force is here and available in the Mahoning Valley and ready for what’s next,” said Dignan.

avugrincic@tribtoday.com

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