Daimler to announce $100M investment as Obama visits Detroit Diesel

Posted on December 10, 2012

As President Barack Obama visits a Daimler AG plant in Redford Township today, the company plans to announce the investment of more than $100 million at the facility “in new technology, expanded production and jobs in the United States,” a Daimler official told The Detroit News.

The investment at Detroit Diesel — a unit of the German automaker — will add an unspecified number of new jobs to the 3-million-square-foot plant as it expands beyond diesel engines.

Detroit Diesel has 2,300 employees and builds four major engines, rear axles and 12-speed transmissions.

A presidential statement last week would only say that Obama’s address at the plant on Outer Drive near Plymouth would be “an event on the economy.”

“Daimler Trucks North America will become the first heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer in North America to offer a fully integrated powertrain from one production facility,” the Daimler official said.

“And by making all parts — the engine, axles and transmission — of a truck in the same place, Daimler engineers can design each part so that it works more effectively with the others.”

During his re-election campaign, the president repeatedly emphasized his decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler with federal financing in 2009, effectively saving the domestic auto industry from collapse.

Obama’s visit to Metro Detroit comes amid Lansing’s battle over right-to-work legislation, though observers expect his focus to stay on the national “fiscal cliff.”

Focused on ‘fiscal cliff’

Craig Ruff, senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, said he expects Obama to touch on Gov. Rick Snyder’s support of right-to-work legislation, but his main focus will be on pressuring Republicans to agree to raise tax rates on wealthier Americans.

“I don’t think he would want to make it the headline of the visit,” Ruff said of the right-to-work issue.

“He’s got bigger fish to fry.”

The address comes three weeks before tax cuts are set to expire on nearly all Americans and $1.2 trillion in mandatory domestic and defense spending cuts over 10 years are to take effect — unless Congress acts.

The Obama administration wants Congress to extend the tax cuts to 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year and the 97 percent of small businesses that earn less than $250,000 a year. It also wants $50 billion in new infrastructure spending.

Republicans in Congress oppose letting taxes rise for people making more than $250,000 and on some small businesses. They argue raising taxes will cost jobs.

Ruff said of Obama’s top priority right now: “He’s clearly focused on the fiscal cliff.”

Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer agreed, saying he expects the focus of the visit to be on “tax fairness.”

But Brewer said they appreciated Obama’s “strong” statement Thursday opposing Snyder’s decision to move ahead with right to work.

Rebranding effort

The UAW-represented facility was swarming with Secret Service agents and speech writers late last week, said Jeff Allen, the plant’s head of operations.

“We are extremely excited, that’s for sure,” Allen said Friday.

Allen said he expects about 1,500 employees to be on hand for Obama’s speech.

Detroit Diesel — originally formed by General Motors in 1938 as GM Diesel Division — was recast in 1988 as a joint venture between Penske Corp. and GM, creating Detroit Diesel Corp. The deal gave Penske a 60 percent majority ownership in the new venture.

In 2000, the venture was acquired by DaimlerChrysler, which later sold Chrysler and is again known as Daimler AG.

The company, which invested $190 million in Detroit Diesel in 2010, is rebranding Detroit Diesel as simply “Detroit” to “encompass all engines and future products,” the company said on its website.

Detroit Diesel has built more than 5 million engines since 1938 — and has more than 1 million on the road today.

David Shepardson & Christine MacDonald, The Detroit News