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Chrysler Bankruptcy Forces Sudden Columbus Plant Shut Down

With the shutdown of Cummins’ Midrange Engine Plant in Columbus earlier this week, company officials can only guess when production will be up and running again.

The Cummins plant builds engines for Chrysler’s Dodge Ram pickup trucks, traditionally one of the automaker’s strongest brands. But with Chrysler’s bankruptcy filing last week, much of the company’s production has stopped, meaning this particular Cummins plant has no orders to fill.

“It’s hard to speculate right now. We hope to know more,” said Mark Land, Cummins spokesman.

“I hate to sound like a broken record. You know, we just found out. We just found out this plant was closing. There may well be some disruption but we’re just not at a point where it’s completely laid out what we’re going to do,” Land said.

The company has laid off more than a thousand since late last year. Land says 2008 was the company’s most profitable year in a string of more than five years of constant growth. But now, he says, the Fortune 200 Company needs to keep its workforce in line with demand…

“As difficult as it is to get through this period now. When the recession ends and the recovery begins. We need to be in a good position so we can come back strongly, right?” Land said.

“We have a responsibility to try to run the business that makes sense for the demand that we have for our product. Part of our business model is to try to generate a reasonable level of profit and cash, even through the downturn.”

Chrysler used to one of Cummins’ biggest customers, but it now accounts for only three percent of business because of the recession and lack of demand for vehicles with large engines. Land says employees won’t be paid for time off this week and can’t use vacation time, either.

“It’s one of the realities of the situation, unfortunately,” he said.

“[The employees] understand the situation that we’re they’re very well attuned to what’s going on in the marketplace and with Chrysler. And they have done a terrific job navigating through what have been very difficult months these past several months.”

Land says he’s not sure how Chrysler’s ordered merger with Italian car manufacturer Fiat will affect Cummins’ dealings with the Big 3 automaker.  He says the company will probably see it as a good thing…as long as it means Chrysler stays in business.

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