CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Mitsubishi Motors and the United Auto Workers said Monday that they will work together to look for a buyer for the central Illinois plant the company plans to close.
The Japanese automaker also said in the joint statement that its decision to close the plant in Normal in November was not related to labor costs but rather diminishing sales.
"We greatly value the work of all of our employees in Normal and want to stress that our motivation to exit from this facility is unrelated to labor costs or our relationship with the UAW," Hiroshi Harunari, executive vice president in charge of overseas operations for Mitsubishi, said. "Our partnership over the years has been both respectful and mutually beneficial."
Production at the plant, which employs about 1,200 people, has fallen to 64,000 vehicles from more than 200,000 in 2002. The contract with UAW members expires next month.
Ron McInroy is a regional director of the United Auto Workers. He called the workforce at the plant "high quality" and "very skilled."
"At a time when a growing number of car manufacturers are seeking to expand production capacity in the U.S., we believe the Normal plant and its world-class workforce will be appealing to potential buyers," McInroy said in the statement.
Mitsubishi announced last week that it will close the plant at the end of November. The facility is one of the largest employers in the Bloomington-Normal area.
Some auto industry experts said after the announcement that the plant's proximity to a number of Midwestern auto-parts suppliers might make it an attractive purchase. Others, though, have questioned how up-to-date the plant is, given Mitsubishi's financial struggles.
The company's decision comes four years after plant employees agreed to pay cuts and the company committed to making Outlander SUVs in Normal.