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GM chiefs offer assurances but no promises

They say the company is committed to Korea, investing for long term

June 26,2019
From left Roberto Rempel, president of GM Technical Center Korea; Julian Blissett, GM senior vice president and president of international operations; and Kaher Kazem, GM Korea CEO, answer questions during a press briefing Tuesday in Bupyeong, Incheon. [GM KOREA]
BUPYEONG, Incheon - GM Korea reiterated the company’s commitment to Korea, but the assurances were not ironclad and the possibility of shutting plants remains.

“GM is here for a long term and we are committed,” said Julian Blissett, GM senior vice president and president of international operations, during a press event held Tuesday at GM Technical Center Korea Design Center in Bupyeong. “We wouldn’t invest in the country with the sums of money we are doing if we weren’t committed.

“Hopefully you have trust in us now.”

By way of example, Blissett mentioned the recent investment into GM Korea’s Changwon plant in South Gyeongsang. A groundbreaking ceremony for a new paint shop at the plant was held late last month.

“I can’t tell you the exact sum of money, but this is hundreds of millions of dollars that we are investing in the Changwon plant,” Blissett added. “A lifespan of a paint shop is 25 years […] and normally at GM it lasts 30 to 35. We wouldn’t invest in a paint shop if we weren’t here for a long term.”

Kaher Kazem, CEO of GM Korea, added that the company is trying to rejuvenate business in the domestic market with new products to be released in the second half of the year. He said the company is planning to launch Chevrolet’s Colorado pick-up truck in early August and the Chevrolet Traverse sport utility vehicle (SUV) in early September. They are two of the 15 cars GM Korea promised to introduce starting from last year.

Roberto Rempel, president of GM Technical Center Korea, said that the research and development (R&D) center, spun-off from GM Korea in January and now with 3,300 engineers, is already the second largest among GM’s global R&D centers.

He added the center is developing cars produced in the United States, China and South America.

“We recently hired 100 engineers, which I think is remarkable,” he added.

Despite repeated assurances that GM is here to stay, the executives would not confirm whether the Korean manufacturing plants have been completely ruled out by the U.S. headquarters for closure.

Last year, GM announced a plan to slash thousands of workers globally and close two plants outside of North America, but did not specify the target factories.

On the question of whether Korea is off the list, Blissett said GM “does not comment on any future plans globally.”

GM Korea is still facing difficulty inking a wage agreement with its workers. The company and the union have been struggling to decide on the venue for wage negotiations. Management has been asking the union to move negotiations to a place with multiple exits.

Kazem was detained by workers during a labor dispute in April last year at the previously used meeting hall.

On the preferred direction of negotiations with the labor union, Kazem said: “We need […] to keep our operations globally competitive. I believe we have that shared vision.”

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]


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