- Associated Press - Sunday, May 31, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - The latter part of 2012 and first half of 2013 were not the best of times for South Bend-based AM General.

In December 2012, about 100 salaried employees lost their jobs as the company restructured the business to remain competitive in a period of declining defense spending. In February 2013, the company said it would extend the layoff of 400 workers at the Military Assembly Plant in Mishawaka through at least April because of unexpected delays in foreign military spending.

And just a few months later, the Vehicle Production Group, owners of the handicapped-accessible MV-1 vehicle, went bankrupt. AM General, which built the vehicle for VPG, already had laid off 117 workers in June 2012 while the factory was retooling, and they remained out of work while VPG restructured.

It was all a far cry from late 2007 when the company employed about 2,300 in South Bend, and Mishawaka was producing the Humvee as well as the Hummer.

But fast forward to today and AM General is in the midst of a rebirth.

Thanks to rejuvenated sales of the Humvee to foreign militaries, the refurbishment of thousands of Humvees for the National Guard, the takeover and rebirth of the MV-1 under the Mobility Ventures subsidiary and the addition of a multiyear contract to make the R-Class for Mercedes-Benz, the company now employs 1,350 locally and expects to be at 1,600 before the year is over, Charlie Hall, AM General’s president and CEO, said.

“With some of those opportunities as we move into next year, we could see it grow into a couple thousand,” Hall said. “That’s still a ways off.”

Despite the low period the company was facing in 2013, Hall always believed the company would turn around but he never believed it would be because of its long and rich history.

“We can all go to the Studebaker Museum or go to the Smithsonian Institute and see companies that thought that way,” Hall, who joined AM General in January 2011 as its president and CEO, said in a recent interview with The Tribune. “We have to stay focused on our future, focused on our customer, and we have to be willing to adapt to meet their requirements.

“That’s the culture that we have here. That’s the focus for the future.”

AM General’s refocused effort seems to be working out.

“It certainly looks like the right approach to take,” said Bernard Swiecki, assistant director of the Automotive Communities Partnership at the center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. Amid today’s international realities, government contracts should be OK, even should the economy dip, he said.

“And the Mercedes work is exactly what you would want to be doing, with truck and SUV sales expanding rapidly with low fuel prices,” Swiecki said, referring to the R-Class, which mostly is sold in foreign markets, especially China.

The MV-1 plays into an American trend that includes architecture for more handicapped-accessible buildings. “That’s a vehicle that’s tapping into a general cultural movement,” Swiecki said. “It’s bigger than just transportation.”

Adaptability, agility, integrity and customer focus are constant refrains in Hall’s business philosophy.

“Today’s world is a very agile world,” said Hall, who started as an intern and UAW employee at Chrysler before advancing in more than four decades of manufacturing work to executive vice president of combat systems at General Dynamics. “It’s all about speed to market. It’s all about rapid decision making. Because of the nature of our workforce, because of the way that we’ve set up our factories both military and commercial, we have the ability to do that. I think going forward that it’s only going to be more important.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/1zWi1ES

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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