By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Following the monumental announcement Tuesday that Mitsubishi’s North American arm would be moving its headquarters from California to Franklin, Tennessee by the end of the year, the chair for the Spring Hill chapter of the United Automobile Works (UAW), Mike Herron, couldn’t describe it as anything else but positive – save for one suggestion to Mitsubishi.
“This is all positive, there’s no doubt about it,” Herron said. “Yes, they’re a competitor, but yes, this is positive, because they’re at least locating here in the United States. And if they’re going to sell cars over here, then they should build them over here. There’s no better place to build a car plant than Tennessee – the workforce here is outstanding, we have talented people in this area, and certainly the infrastructure has been built, so it’s a good place to come if they’re going to go ahead and grow.”
Founded in 1970, Mitsubishi is a major automotive manufacturer based in Japan, and its history of actually manufacturing vehicles on American soil is brief.
In a joint effort between Chrysler and Mitsubishi, an automotive manufacturing plant was opened in Normal, Illinois in 1985, later renamed as the Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America in 1995. While Mitsubishi had become the single fastest growing automobile brand in the U.S. in the 1990s, the 2000s saw a sharp decline for the company, ultimately leading to the closing of the plant in 2015 after producing well below capacity for several years – thus ending their only manufacturing presence in North America.
A strong proponent for U.S. jobs, Herron argued a Mitsubishi plant in Tennessee would be beneficial to all involved parties, and that the announcement of Mitsubishi moving their headquarters to the state could be a sign of things to come.
“Who knows what this may mean for future growth with Mitsubishi,” Herron said. “Maybe this means another automotive plant in the United States for them.”
Herron’s speculation as to what the new headquarters could mean for the future of Mitsubishi is fueled by the current automotive presence in Tennessee, which Herron said “is truly becoming an automotive state.”
“I don’t think it’s accidental that they chose to move to this area,” Herron said. “They’re finding out the same thing that we did when we moved to Tennessee 30 years ago, which is this is a great place to do business. Between General Motors, Nissan, Volkswagen, this is truly becoming an automotive state.”
Herron also heavily praised U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, saying his dedication to bringing automotive jobs to Tennessee for over 30 years has been instrumental in bringing economic prosperity.
Herron’s praise is certainly not unfounded, either.
In 1979, Alexander flew to Japan with the specific intent to bring further investments into Tennessee. After a successful meeting with Nissan staff, the company would eventually open their U.S. headquarters in none other than Franklin. Alexander was also instrumental in bringing the General Motors Saturn plant to Spring Hill, which opened in 1990, as well as the Volkswagen plant to Chattanooga.
“He’s a friend, and he has been a supporter of the automotive industry, really from the very beginning,” Herron said. “When we arrived here 30 years ago and started Saturn, he definitely took a leadership position. It was a passion of his to have an automotive industry in the state of Tennessee. He landed Nissan, he landed Saturn, and since that time, there’s been several other additions to the state.”