Delaware's auto industry reborn

    Delaware is headed back to the automaking business. Vice-President led the team that announced Fisker automotive will build high-end hybrid cars at the Boxwood plant.

    Rumors of the demise of Delaware’s auto industry have been greatly exaggerated, claims Vice-President Joe Biden.

    “The doubters were wrong about our ability to manufacture,” Biden told an enraptured crowd Tuesday at the former General Motors assembly plant near Newport.

    About four months after GM closed the Boxwood Road facility, the dormant building was once again full of noise — and auto workers –as Fisker Automotive announced it will renovate the plant to produce plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

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    “This factory in Delaware and the industry are going to get back up off the mat,” Biden said. “And, folks, in so doing we’re going to help some of the best workers in the world reclaim their jobs. And America’s auto industry is going to reclaim its world leadership.”

    The event was more celebration than announcement as hundreds of former Boxwood employees hooted and hollered during speeches from Biden, Delaware’s Congressional Delegation, Governor Jack Markell and Fisker CEO, Henrik Fisker.

    “This is our sunny day,” yelled Sen. Tom Carper.

    “Welcome to Delaware,” said Markell to Fisker Automotive executives.

    And Sen. Ted Kaufman said it’s all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

    The plant will support Fisker Automotive’s Project NINA, the development and manufacturing of a plug-in hybrid sedan costing just under $40,000.

    Production is scheduled to begin in late 2012, creating 2,000 factory jobs at the Boxwood plant and another 3,000 jobs nationwide.

    The goal is to produce 100,000 vehicles a year when the plant ramps up to full capacity by 2014. More than half will be exported.

    “Technology-wise, since we moved from the horse to the gasoline engine there has never been such a big change as is happening right now where we are moving from the pure gasoline engine into the electrification of the automobile,” said Henrik Fisker,CEO. “Plug-in hybrids, for instance, like we’re going to be building right here in this plant.”

    Funding will come, in part, from a $528 million Department of Energy loan awarded last month. Otherwise, Fisker says, Project NINA was probably at least three years away.

    An additional $175 million will be spent to refurbish and retool the factory over the next three years.

    Fisker Automotive selected the Delaware facility for its size, production capacity, world-class paint facilities, access to shipping ports, rail lines and available skilled workforce.

    The company, which purchased the Boxwood plant for $18 million, was founded two years ago in California.

    The CEO joked that folks around here may not have heard of his company even just a few days ago.

    But unemployed auto workers like Ron Healy know who they are now.

    Healy was an electrition at the GM plant for 27 years. And even though the announcement raises some questions, he’s thrilled.

    “It’s exciting and it’s great news for Delaware and all the auto workers,” he said. “I’m not sure how it’s going to effect each one or what the re-employment process is going to be but hopefully we all go back to work.”

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