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Like Car Fins, Auto Plant Tours In Detroit A Thing Of the Past

July 5, 1988

DETROIT (AP) _ British comedienne Tracey Ullman was in town recently looking for a slice of life of the Motor City - an auto plant tour.

For a look under the industry’s hood, she would have had better luck in Linden, N.J., or Bowling Green, Ky. Auto plant tours in Detroit have gone the way of car fins. The only tour a publicist could arrange quickly was too far from the city to fit into Ullman’s schedule.

The downscaling of the American auto industry following the energy crisis of the 1970s and the foreign import influx helped spell the end of many tours. Company executives deemed the public relations value of ferrying senior citizens and Boy Scouts through their plants to be expendable.

Today, there are no public tours of auto assembly plants within the city, officials of the Big Three automakers say. Some tours are available at plants in nearby Flint, Pontiac and Ypsilanti.

That is a letdown for visitors to the automotive capital of North America. Ullman, for instance, was hoping to do research for her syndicated television program ″The Tracey Ullman Show.″

″I think they’re surprised and somewhat disappointed,″ said Mary Ellen McCormick, program planner for Detroit Upbeat, a company offering tours of the area. ″So we attempt to show as much of the auto influence by showing the auto baron mansions and by driving past some of the plants.″

″We’re very much up a creek with auto plant tours,″ she said.

Plant closings in the area have left little for visitors to see.

Tours at General Motors Corp.’s Fleetwood Cadillac plant were discontinued before it closed in December and tours at GM’s Fiero plant in Pontiac will end soon because that facility is scheduled to close this year.

One of the area’s most popular auto plant tours used to be Ford Motor Co.’s massive Dearborn Rouge complex. The tours were the idea of company founder Henry Ford. There, visitors could see raw materials entering one end of the plant and the finished product driven out the other.

″You could see the ore boats pull up and the steel being made and then go to the assembly plant and see it put together,″ said Tom Kish, Ford special projects administrator.

Rouge tours were discontinued in the early 1980s, but that hasn’t ended requests for a look-see at the facility, which now produces the Mustang.

″I get people who call and say, ’I toured your Rouge plant years ago and it was wonderful. Now I want to show my grandchildren,‴ Ford spokeswoman Judith Muhlberg said.

Ford is considering resuming tours at Rouge and at assembly plants near Detroit in Wayne and Wixom, Ford spokesman Jim Maxwell said.

Most Detroit visitors looking for an auto plant tour are directed to General Motors Corp.’s Buick City plant in Flint, said Colleen Robar, of the Metropolitan Detroit Convention & Visitors Bureau.

There visitors can see the Buick LaSabre assembled during a 90-minute walking tour that includes stops at the stamping area, trim shop, body shop and final assembly area.

About 50,000 people a year tour the plant, said Marcia McGee, of GM’s Flint Automotive Division.

Outside Detroit, General Motors maintains an aggressive tour program. About six months ago, 30,000 people toured the Linden, N.J., plant in two days after a $300 million, one-year modernization was completed.

Family members of plant employees, neighbors of the facility and auto dealers were invited to visit the plant, which had been converted to build the Chevrolet Corsica and Beretta, said Mark Leddy, spokesman for GM’s Chevrolet- Pontiac-Canada group.

He said all of the 26 plants in the C-P-C group offer some form of public tours.

Chrysler plant tours were a victim of spending cutbacks in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Chrysler spokesman Douglas E. Nicoll said.

The No. 3 automaker still arranges tours for automotive-related groups, including representatives from competing car companies. Occasional groups of students from abroad also visit Chrysler plants, he said.

No tour policy has been established at the Detroit area’s only Japanese auto plant, owned by Mazda Motor Corp. Some community groups have toured the plant, which opened in September in Flat Rock, south of Detroit, company spokesman Jim Gill said.

Those who help organize tours defend their value, saying they polish a company’s image and boost employee morale in plants hosting visitors. Ford and GM use volunteers from the factory floor to conduct many tours.

″There’s a great deal of pride in opening up your plant,″ Ford’s Muhlberg said. ″People are amazed at the process of making an automobile. It probably has a public relations value that can’t be quantified.″

End Adv Tuesday July 5

Y-06-29-88 1318EDT