Last year, General Motors, in an ongoing effort to shore up its financials, shuttered its Gunsan, South Korea factory. At the time, the announcement came as a shock to Korean officials, causing Gunsan employees to prepare to protest. However, it appears the former GM factory could soon have new jobs, according to Argus Media. The semantics are a bit convoluted, but vehicle production could start back up at the plant as early as 2021, but not under The General nor for its vehicles. One brand expected to build vehicles at the facility is Byton, the Chinese electric vehicle brand founded in 2016 by former Nissan and BMW executives.
MS Autotech, the South Korean parts supplier, bought the former GM Gunsan plant for 113 billion won ($98.7 million at today’s exchange rates) to build electric vehicles on behalf of Chinese automaker Future Mobility Corporation. And that’s how Byton will become one of the automotive brands produced at the former GM factory. Production at the plant is scheduled to begin in 2021 with an output of 50,000 electric vehicles per year. Annual capacity is expected to grow to 150,000 units by 2025. The plant will undergo a 300 billion-won ($262 billion) retooling.
The project to produce vehicles at the former GM Gunsan plant is a joint venture between several companies, including other South Korean auto parts producers. MS Autotech, for example, is a supplier for both Tesla and Hyundai. The venture could seek new contracts with other automakers, too, potentially making Gunsan and the surrounding area a new hub for electric car production. In fact, Chinese automakers Chery Automotive and Songuo Motors are also considering plants for EVs in the area.
Electric vehicles still account for a fraction of overall new car sales, with gasoline-powered vehicles still representing the majority of sales. However, China now accounts for more than half of all global EV sales. Last year, customers bought more than one million electric vehicles in China, and the country’s growing EV demand is good news for Gunsan. When GM closed the plant in May 2018, the facility was only operating at 20 percent capacity, building the Chevrolet Cruze, its Holden-badged variant for Australia and New Zealand, as well as the Chevrolet Orlando.
As it almost always turns out, GM’s loss becomes someone else’s gain… and that applies to the former GM Gunsan plant as well.