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General Motors announces new engine, Cadillac production at Tenn. plant; UAW chides GOP

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SPRING HILL, Tenn. - General Motors announced Wednesday that it is moving production of its next-generation Cadillac SRX crossover SUV from Mexico to its plant in Tennessee, leading United Auto Workers leaders to chide Tennessee Republicans for their opposition to the union increasing its influence in the state.

The UAW has represented workers at the former Saturn plant since it opened on the outskirts of Nashville in 1990, but state Republicans including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker have fought the union's efforts to gain representation of workers at Volkswagen's plant about 100 miles to the east in Chattanooga.

Haslam and Corker have argued that the UAW getting foothold with its first foreign automaker in the South would hurt the region's ability to attract new investment from automotive manufacturers and suppliers, and decrease competitiveness because of higher wages and a confrontational working environment.

UAW President Dennis Williams said in an email to supporters that Wednesday's announcement of the new model and production of small gasoline engines in Spring Hill flies in the face of what he called "union-busting politicians" who claim collective bargaining hurts productivity.

"While politicians were talking trash, UAW members were working hard to make sure GM brings jobs back from Mexico and continues expanding here at home," Williams said.

UAW officials at the Spring Hill announcement repeatedly cited an atmosphere of "collaboration" with management and collective bargaining agreements in gaining the new production at the plant that was idled as recently as 2011.

"It's time for that pitting-us-against-them mentality to go away," said union Vice-President Cindy Estrada.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Haslam were diplomatic about the UAW's role at the plant on Wednesday. Corker did not attend Wednesday's event after being heartily booed by plant workers during a visit in 2011.

"We have a history of working with companies that are unionized as well as those that aren't," Haslam said after the event.

Workers at the Volkswagen plant narrowly rejected the union in an election earlier this year, but the UAW has said it expects VW to recognize the union without another vote once it gets enough workers to sign membership cards.

The General Motors additions will bring more jobs to Spring Hill, but a GM spokesman wouldn't give specifics on how many would be added to the sprawling former Saturn facility.

All the company would say was that the SRX and a yet-to-be identified second midsize vehicle would "create or retain" about 1,800 jobs, while a $185 million investment in the Spring Hill engine factory would retain 390 jobs.

The complex now employs just over 2,300 workers, including hourly and salaried employees and those who work for parts supply companies.

Last year GM announced plans to invest $350 million in the Tennessee assembly plant to build two future midsize vehicles. The plant already builds several small gasoline engines plus the Chevrolet Equinox midsize SUV.

GM also announced Wednesday that it would invest just under $50 million at its Bedford, Indiana, engine block casting plant, keeping 45 jobs.

The Cadillac SRX now is built at a GM factory in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, which also builds the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact car and Chevy Captiva small SUV.

GM hasn't identified the other new vehicle to be built at Spring Hill. But the state of Tennessee said in a July 11 news release that a nearby company was expanding to make parts for new GMC and Cadillac vehicles at the Spring Hill factory.

The new GMC likely would be produced on the same underpinnings as the Cadillac SUV, which likely will be redesigned for the 2016 model year.

It's possible that Chevy Equinox production at Spring Hill could go away in favour of the two new vehicles. The Equinox and sister vehicle, the GMC Terrain, already are assembled at two Canadian factories.

Crossover SUVs are in one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. auto market, appealing to young people and downsizing baby boomers. Sales of the midsize crossovers are up 14 per cent so far this year, according to Autodata Corp., while overall U.S. auto sales are up 5 per cent.

Crossovers are built on car underpinnings so they manoeuvr like a car and get comparable gas mileage. Drivers like the visibility of the high seating position and versatile cargo space.

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Krisher reported from Detroit.

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