EXCLUSIVE: Looking back at Southern California’s history of Auto Manufacturing

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LOS ANGELES — As a way to preview the L.A. Auto Show, we thought it was important to look back at auto manufacturing in Southern California. Detroit has always been known as the Motor City. However, GM, Ford and Chrysler also made their cars in the Southland.

General Motors began producing advanced design trucks and cars like the Chevrolet Caprice, Chevelle and Nova at its manufacturing plant in Van Nuys. The last Monte Carlo rolled off the line in 1992 when production was moved to Quebec. Today, it is a shopping center known as “The Plant.” However, GM still maintains a testing facility next door.

Beginning in 1957, Ford Motor Company made the ford Thunderbird, Mercury Cougar and Ford Galaxie at it’s assembly plant in Pico Rivera. The Lincoln Continental and Mercury Marquis were also produced there. When demand for large cars dropped at the start of the 1980s, Ford closed the plant. It was sold to the Northrop Corporation, which used the facility to built B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers. The factory was demolished in 2001 to make way for the Pico Rivera Town Center shopping plaza.

Chrysler once manufactured Dodge and Plymouth trucks at its assembly plant in Commerce as early as 1932. During the war, it was converted to make aircraft engines and cabin tops. Post war, the factory was used to build the Plymouth Valiant and Belvedere as well as the Dodge Challenger and Coronet. By 1965, as many as 57 cars were made per hour–nearly one every minute. The plant closed in 1971 due to a lack of rail transport as tri-level railroad carriers were coming into use.

Tesla purchased a former manufacturing plant from GM and Toyota. It is now the only automaker producing vehicles in Northern California. It’s electric vehicles are made in Fremont, in the southeast section of the Bay Area with 3,000 employees and 160 specialized robots. Look for Tesla to release a $35,000 electric car called the Model 3 by the beginning of 2017.

Fisker Automotive filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and was purchased by Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang Group the following year. The luxury car maker announced plans to lease a 556,000-square-foot industrial building in the city of Moreno Valley for manufacturing purposes.

On September 30, Costa Mesa-based Fisker changed its company name to Karma Automotive after its model name. The automaker has relaunched and is on much more solid ground. The company is looking to fill 150 positions that pay as much as $26 per hour. Karma is looking for welders, fabricators, painters and production assemblers and other skilled professionals.  Shiny, new electric vehicles are expected to roll off the line beginning in 2016.

In just one month, the doors will swing open for the 2015 LA Auto Show with dozens of shiny new concept vehicles and production models. We’re expecting to see the 2017 Buick lacrosse, 2017 Hyundai Elantra, the Infiniti QX30 crossover, Jaguar’s F-PACE utility vehicle and several others making up 30 world debuts.

Press days are November 17 to 19th with the show opening to the public on the 20th and running through the 29th, including on Thanksgiving Day.

For tickets and more information about the Los Angeles Auto Show, visit www.laautoshow.com.

Ford Pico Rivera Assembly Plant / Northrop "Advanced Systems Division" (site) - Pico Rivera, California
Ford Pico Rivera Assembly Plant / Northrop “Advanced Systems Division” (site) – Pico Rivera, California (Photo credit: www.wikimapia.org)
Chrysler closed its Commerce plant in 1971; Ford shuttered its Pico Rivera facility in the 1980s and General Motors was the last of the Big Three to close its Van Nuys plant in 1992. (Map data ©2015 Google)


Workers at Chevrolet plant in Van Nuys were back to work for second day after the 34-day strike that closed the plant. (Photo credit: http://lordstownsyndrome.tumblr.com)
Workers at Chevrolet plant in Van Nuys were back to work for second day after the 34-day strike that closed the plant. (Photo credit: http://lordstownsyndrome.tumblr.com)
Chrysler's Lost Los Angeles Plant, 1932-1971 (Photo credit: www.allpar.com)
Chrysler’s Lost Los Angeles Plant, 1932-1971 (Photo credit: www.allpar.com)
Tesla makes its electric vehicles at its plant in Fremont, in the southern part of the Bay Area. (Map data ©2015 Google)


Karma Automotive (formerly Fisker) is leasing this 556,000-square-foot building in Moreno Valley to manufacture new electric vehicles. (Photo credit: Colliers International)


Karma Automotive’s new plant is located about 70 miles east of Los Angeles. (Map data ©2015 Google)

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