Lordstown's Last Chance

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Lordstown's Last ChanceMEGAN JELINGER - Getty Images

It should have been a match made in heaven.

Lordstown Motors was a newly formed startup, looking to establish itself as a pioneer in the untapped electric-truck market. The company had named itself for its new base of operations, a village in northeast Ohio that suddenly had an empty 6.2-million-square-foot auto plant—which General Motors was eager to sell.

Amid great fanfare in the summer of 2020, even if it was slightly subdued by the outbreak of COVID-19, the Endurance pickup truck was introduced. Its name a nod to everything the region had gone through. Vice President Mike Pence was chauffeured around, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine attended a preview the night before. It looked like the Endurance might be the first electric truck to market, filling a demand that already looked enormous.


But it all came crashing down. The following spring, an investor report said that the company was a house of cards. Trucks weren’t being produced in any meaningful number, and a prototype caught fire. The Justice Department investigated. The Securities & Exchange Commission investigated. And in 2023, the company declared bankruptcy, from which it recently emerged, its fate uncertain.

What began so promisingly ended up failing miserably.

"You hope for the best," said Arno Hill, who served as mayor of Lordstown until the end of last year. "But you’re ready for whatever comes down the pike."

On the Monday after Thanksgiving, 2018, General Motors announced it was "unallocating" its Lordstown plant, as well as four others. (The terminology was important. Recent labor contracts had gotten promises not to close the plant. Instead, GM was discontinuing the vehicle made there, the Chevrolet Cruze.)

The facility had opened in 1966, cranking out full-size Chevys. But starting in 1971 with the ill-fated Vega, the plant's fortunes had been linked with GM production of small cars (although Chevrolet and GMC vans were also built there through 1992). In early March 2019, the last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the assembly line, and more than 1400 jobs were lost. The plant was down to just one shift. That was well below its peak employment in the 1970s of around 12,000, when the complex included a van plant and a Fisher Body plant. But it was still a body blow in a region that could ill afford it.

"GM made a business decision, and they had a right to that," Hill says. "Naturally, I wasn't ecstatic about it. We lost about a million dollars a shift in income tax."

The closure also had political ramifications nationally. President Donald Trump waded into the fray, exhorting the United Auto Workers and General Motors to find a way to reopen the plant, tweeting, "Because the economy is so good, General Motors must get their Lordstown, Ohio, plant open, maybe in a different form or with a new owner, FAST!"

Workhorse Arrives

In May, GM announced it was in discussions to sell the plant to the Workhorse Group, a Cincinnati-area company that made electric vehicles. At the time, Workhorse was pursuing a federal contract for electric mail trucks, and then-CEO Duane Hughes saw the plant as a potential competitive advantage in bidding for the contract. But even then, Workhorse was losing money, reporting a net loss of $36.5 million in 2018 and $37.2 million in 2019. Still, General Motors was a highly motivated seller and ended up selling the plant to Workhorse for $20 million. "And there were still all the stamping presses and robotics in it," Hill says.

Workhorse's technology would be licensed to a new startup to make and sell EV pickup trucks, then an untapped market. "People were just clamoring for electric trucks at the time," says John Higham, a member of the board of the Electric Vehicle Association. "At that point, the only way to get an electric truck was to build your own."

The truck would feature hub motors, a relatively small electric motor in each wheel hub. It wasn't necessarily a new idea. It was unclear if it was a good idea.

"If it's done right, I think it's a good idea," says EV journalist and podcaster Tom Moloughney. "But a lot of companies have tried it, and we've never really seen it work. We've never seen it produced at scale and be function. To see a startup like Lordstown say, 'We've got the magic sauce,' that was surprising."

Lordstown also marketed mainly to fleet managers rather than general consumers, which might have been a misstep.

"I always thought fleets would love an electric truck," Moloughney says. "But fleet managers don't care about hub motors. They care about operating costs. Will this do the work I need it to do, and will it save me money?"

Lordstown Motors took ownership of the plant in November 2019, with plans to have trucks manufactured there the following year.

lordstown motors endurance
Lordstown Motors

"A Great Day, an Exciting Day"

On June 25, 2020, the Endurance was unveiled at an event at the plant. The silver trucks looked sleek and hummed quietly as they were driven. The automaker claimed it was targeting a starting price of $52,500 and a range of 250 miles. "This is just a great day, an exciting day, where not too long ago we had heartbreaking news," said Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the factory. "Today is a new beginning for Lordstown and a new day for leadership with electric vehicles."

Spirits were high. Lordstown CEO Steve Burns said advance orders were in hand for 20,000 trucks. He envisioned a factory that employed as many as 5000 people—more than when GM had three shifts building the Cruze there—making 600,000 trucks a year.

COVID-19 brought a host of shortages and supply chain issues, and the production start for the Endurance was pushed back to early 2021. But that March, a bombshell dropped. Hindenburg Research issued a report, "The Lordstown Motors Mirage: Fake Orders, Undisclosed Production Hurdles, and a Prototype Inferno," saying that advance sales numbers were gamed, a prototype burst into flames in testing, and following an initial public offering in October, executives were quickly dumping their own stock in the company. "We think Lordstown has grossly misled the public about its order book and the progress of its proposed truck," the report stated.

Admittedly, Hindenburg was a short seller, so it wanted to see Lordstown's stock price decline (which it did, to the point where trading was actually halted), and Lordstown Motors called the report "false and misleading." But CEO Steve Burns and CFO Julio Rodriguez resigned, and the Justice Department started investigating Lordstown Motors. The company also revealed that it didn't have sufficient funds to start volume production.

Competition from Ford, GM, Rivian, Tesla

Meanwhile, Rivian became the first company to bring an electric pickup truck to market in the fall of 2021, with its R1T that offered up to 316 miles of range. The following spring, Ford's F-150 Lightning went on sale, priced from just under $42,000. And Tesla's long-awaited Cybertruck came out in late 2023. GM's electric Chevy Silverado began trickling out in the second half of 2023, and the electric Ram is supposed to reach showrooms in the fourth quarter of this year.

"Bringing any type of electric vehicle to market is very capital intensive and there's a long runway," Higham says. "It just takes a few missteps, and the market can be very unforgiving.

"Everyone wanted to be first in the market to have market movement advantage. If your growth plan was to have market movement advantage and you miss it, that will hurt."

56 Trucks

In May 2022, Lordstown Motors sold the plant to Foxconn for $230 million. In the fall of 2022, the media drove the first Endurance pickups; by then, the starting price had risen to $65,000 and range had declined to 200 miles. Come 2023, the company filed for bankruptcy. All told, it's estimated that a total of 56 trucks were actually built.

The company emerged from bankruptcy in March as Nu Ride. Its CEO, William Gallagher, declined to comment for this story. The former assets of Lordstown Motors were sold to LAS Capital LLC, the majority equity owner of which is former Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns. Attempts to schedule an interview with Burns for this story were unsuccessful; he'd said previously that he still hopes to build the truck.

But the moment for the Lordstown Endurance likely has passed. With EV pickups now available from established automakers, including Tesla, the startup's unique selling proposition is gone. And with it, the economic hopes of this hard-luck manufacturing plant appear to be gone, too.

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