DETROIT — More than 1,400 jobs and six decades of building Pontiac cars in nearby Pontiac, Mich., will come to an end today when General Motors Corp. builds its last Fiero.
There is a good chance that Pontiacs may never again be built in that economically depressed town 30 miles northwest of Detroit.
The labor contract signed between GM and the United Auto Workers union last fall included a ban on permanent plant closings, so the giant car maker insists that the plant, built in 1925 and last refurbished in 1983, is only being mothballed--indefinitely.
The contract does, however, allow GM to lay off workers because of slow sales, and Fiero workers will receive plant-closing benefits, which for many mean 95% of their after-tax pay for two years, then half of their gross pay until retirement age under Guaranteed Income Stream payments.
About 500 of the 1,400 workers will be laid off from Pontiac Main, which made metal stampings for the Fiero. They will get similar layoff provisions, but only those with 15 years or more seniority will get GIS payments.
However, the prospect of getting a new job with GM in the area does not look good, considering that GM has closed several Pontiac plants already and has a swollen pool of more than 5,000 idle workers.
When GM announced last March that it would stop making the sporty, plastic-bodied two-seater after just five model years, it pointed to the downward spiral of sales--from a high of 101,720 in its first full year of production in 1984 to less than 20,000 so far this year.
Pontiac General Manager Michael Losh said GM could not sustain the plant profitably unless it sold 50,000 cars a year. Sales of other two-seater cars in the Fiero's class--the Toyota MR2 and Honda Civic CRX--have also slipped in recent years.
High insurance rates and a massive recall of early models because of engine fires also did not do much for the car, which was conceived as a commuter car in the early 1980s but instead evolved into a "poor man's Corvette" costing as much as $16,000 when gas prices did not rise to $2 and $3 a gallon as predicted.
Despite the Fiero's demise, GM will adapt key features of the Fiero's construction to its future products.
A front-drive minivan to be built at GM's North Tarrytown, N.Y., plant will use a steel frame covered by soft plastic body panels, much the same way the Fiero was built.
Ford Motor Co. also announced that it would end production of its two-seater subcompact, the Escort EXP. But industry analysts say there could be a revival in the reasonably priced two-seater market in the early 1990s and that GM's Saturn Corp. could be a player after it introduces its first brace of models in mid-1990.