Flint community lamented the end of local Buick production in
1999 � but the assembly line could have stopped 15 years ago.
on because of a bold plan by a group of its managers, led by General
Manager Lloyd Reuss. Dubbed Buick City, the plan called
for a $300-million modernization of the sprawling north-side Buick
complex � and coincided with the demise of Fisher Body No. 1.
came at a troubled time for General Motors, which was beset by
quality problems and recalls, particularly with its troublesome
X-cars, (Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Citation, Oldsmobile
Omega and Pontiac Phoenix).
the cars in the spring of 1979, but by 1981 recalls were already
hurting sales. Some were recalled for brake problems, fuel leakage,
leaking transmissions and other woes.
1983, there would be at least 15 recalls on the X-cars, and the
U.S. Justice Dept. would sue GM, charging that the automaker knowingly
built 1.1 million 1980 models with faulty brakes.
judge ruled in GMs favor in 1987, rejecting the demand for
a recall. The damage was done, though; production of the X-cars
had ended in 1985 � a year earlier than GM had planned � and GMs
share of the U.S. market continued to slip.
But GM had
other woes. A 1981 recall of 6.4 million cars to fix bolts in
the rear suspension was then the second-largest recall in the
history of the U.S. auto industry.
problems with engines or cylinder heads that cracked or leaked.
In 1980, the Center for Auto Safety said it got more complaints
about a GM transmission than any other product in the centers
was accused of a cover-up in 1981, after a group of customers
sued when they discovered their 1977 Oldsmobiles had Chevrolet
Amid it all,
Reuss in 1982 sold the Buick City concept to his skeptical bosses
at General Motors headquarters in Detroit.
of people corporate-wise sort of felt that (the Buick assembly
plant) was old, a big complex, with an organization that over
the years had a lot of problems between union and management,
he told The Journal in 1997.
so there were a lot of people before the studies were made, at
the corporate level, who said, Well, listen, thats
probably one of the plants that we dont need anymore.
He said at
least three other plants were competing for new front-wheel-drive
GM was replacing older assembly factories with new, more efficient
plants, and the two Buick assembly plants here had no new products
assigned after August 1984.
building a new assembly plant to replace Buick assembly, and even
chose a site in Vienna Township. James A. Rutherford, then Flints
mayor, came up with an alternate proposal � a site in Genesee
Township that could be annexed by the city with a tax-sharing
But a deepening
economic recession and slump in auto sales soon silenced any talk
of a new factory.
future in Flint was looking very dim when, during a speech to
the Flint Area Chamber of Commerce on June 2, 1982, Reuss laid
out the Buick City concept.
was borrowed from Toyota City, Japan, where suppliers are located
near the factory and vehicles are built almost entirely on site.
GM leaders were cool to the idea.
1983, the story leaked that another assembly plant would get production
of the Buick LeSabre.
with members of GMs executive committee in a last-ditch
effort to win the work and keep the plant open. He convinced the
committee that a revamped Buick complex could be competitive,
and the company announced it would spend $300 million to convert
the two Flint Buick assembly plants.
Flint-made Regal was built on Feb. 1, 1985, and the last Flint-built
rear-wheel-drive LeSabre came off the Buick assembly line a week
end of production at Buick also meant the end of a 59-year-old
tradition: Trucking bodies from Fisher Body No. 1 on Flints
south side to Buick on the north side.
Fisher Body had taken over the factory that made Durant Motors
Flint automobile, and began building bodies for Buick and Chevrolet.
Fisher No. 1 was one of two primary Flint sites in the 1936-37
1 consisted of the two original assembly plants built for the
Flint Motor Co., expanded over the years until it was one of the
largest operations of its type in the nation, if not the world.
of the buildings were razed, the site had 2.8 million square feet
of factory space.
signaled the end of the line for the venerable Fisher Body plant,
because car bodies from then on were built at Buick.
said it would close Fisher 1 in 1985, then applied for and got
a 12-year tax abatement on new equipment, based on assurances
that the factory would stay open at last 21�2 more years.
1 kept running for a few more years, making bodies for Pontiacs
built at an assembly plant in Pontiac. As production tapered off,
some employees at Fisher transferred to Buick.
had employed more than 10,000 people at its peak, and still had
about 6,000 employees when the shutdown was announced.
plant closed, there remained about 3,400 to be transferred or
a new option, though, thanks to a provision in the 1984 national
agreement between the UAW and GM. The contract established the
jointly administered Jobs Bank, which allowed employees to work
at nontraditional jobs in the factories or for nonprofit organizations
while waiting for new work assignments.
No. 1 closed Dec. 10, 1987, and demolition of the older factories
began in September 1988, leaving other buildings to be remodeled.
In its place,
construction began on the creation of the Great Lakes Technology
Centre in October, and in December 1989, AC Rochester (now Delphi
Energy and Engine Management Systems) announced plans to move
its headquarters there.
Automotive Division Engineering and Development Centre (now part
of the Midsize & Luxury Car Group) moved in in 1989.