You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Willow Run factory auction to reap millions as General Motors closes Ypsilanti Township plant

By Nathan Bomey

The list of equipment once used at General Motors' 5 million-square-foot Willow Run plant -- machines now on the auction block with the plant closing this month -- reads like an obituary for Michigan’s manufacturing past.

But auctioneers are confident that the sale will reap "millions" for Motors Liquidation Co., a legal entity often referred to as “Old GM,” which was created during GM’s 2009 bankruptcy proceedings as a way to handle the automaker’s unwanted assets.

The equipment -- complex machines such as the Abmessungen RB TS-SW-FK 0450/EBAD-3000PBF coil feeder, otherwise known as a fineblanking press line  -- will be sold Thursday in an auction at the plant in Ypsilanti Township.

It’s the second of three auctions of the industrial manufacturing machines filling the historic plant, which will close its doors Dec. 23 as part of a plan GM announced in June 2009. A first auction was held a few weeks ago -- and a third is planned for March, after the plant has completely closed and the 320 remaining employees are gone.

Two firms that specialize in industrial equipment auctions are managing the sale: Hilco Industrial Co. and Maynards Industries Ltd.

Taso Sofikitis, president of Maynards Industries’ USA operations, said he anticipates that the auction will reap “millions” for Motors Liquidation Co., though he declined to be more specific.  He said none of the property was of a historic nature.

Sofikitis said he’s expecting 300 to 500 people to attend the auction, including about half by webcast.

The items include high-speed stamping press lines, grinders, broaching machines, spline rollers, hydraulic press brakes and assembly machines. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, some pieces of equipment at ex-GM plants are being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It’s of significant value,” Sofikitis said. “You’re going to have other manufacturers, whether they’re from the auto industry or another industry. You’re going to have resellers. Anyone making any type of gear would be interested in this type of equipment.”

Robert Levy, managing partner of Hilco Industrial, said in an e-mail that the auction would attract an “international crowd.”


A sampling of equipment from GM's Willow Run site to be auctioned off Thursday.

Photo courtesy of Maynards Industries

“This is a global webcast sale where in the room bidders will compete with on-line bidders in real time,” he said.

Bidders can sign up to attend the auction through the auctioneers’ website. But there’s a catch. Several, actually:

--The equipment is sold “as is,” which is why the auctioneers are encouraging people to attend a preview today to assess the quality of the equipment.

--Buyers must pay immediately and in full - taxes, too - and no returns are allowed.

--An auctioneer’s premium of 13.5 percent for in-person bidders and 16 percent for webcast bidders will be assessed.

--The equipment must be removed from the Willow Run site by Jan. 31.

“Some of the equipment is easier to get out than others, but by the end of January it won’t be an issue,” Sofikitis said. “Everything should sell. The market will dictate the prices, but we have an idea of range of value for every asset.”

GM is closing the massive Willow Run plant’s doors for good on Dec. 23. GM has declined to discuss how it’s marketing the site, but local economic development officials have said they view it as part of regional efforts to create an “aerotropolis,” a hub of the transportation economy.

The plant, which sits on a 335-acre site and produced bombers during World War II, employed some 14,000 workers at one point in the 1970s. It was down to about 1,300 workers when GM announced its closure last year.

Today, about 320 employees are working at the site, a GM spokeswoman said.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Sat, Aug 10, 2013 : 2:15 a.m.

Sorry how do I know what is on the auction block?


Sat, Aug 10, 2013 : 2:06 a.m.

How do know what they have on the auction block?

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 9:55 p.m.

"...the plant closing this month." how many times can this plant close? seeems like it's closed MANY times over the years.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 9:15 p.m.

Both historically as well as currently, most of the high-level execs who hide out in the well-furnished office suites care little about the financial welfare of assembly line employees. For the manager class and many of their white collar underlings, the large blue collar crew working on the line represent an alien culture not to be easily trusted — those on the 'other side of the tracks.' Without strong union representation, working conditions and pay levels in an auto factory can become brutal. That has been the case inside the very harsh maquiladora assembly facilities in northern Mexico. As for the Toyota and Honda plants within the U.S., management tries to offer just enough union-like perks to dissuade their line workers from wanting to organize; the "threat" of UAW activity indirectly encourages better workplace standards. To have an auto company where management and floor-level union workers can more easily see eye-to-eye, the corporate structure should first change. Start by reining in the narrow, short-term interests of the big stockholders and the top management team. Reserve half of the available board seats for employee representatives, and begin a process of moving toward eventual employee ownership under a democratic framework. Plants like Willow Run are much less likely to shut down when employee interests have real power inside the corporate boardroom. Employees typically show little inclination to outsource their own jobs or regard stock price as the paramount company objective. At the same time, they'd also work on balancing compensation standards with long-term profitability.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:53 p.m.

My dad spent decades of his life working in this plant, along with others here that have left comments. Regardless of the politics behind it, it is very sad to read about this closing. I grew up hearing about this plant, the people, the job. It provided a lot for our family as it did many others. Reading of its closing and the auctioning off of what's left inside feels very personal and as though a part of the family is being lost.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:49 p.m.

There's plenty of places to lay blame for the disintegration of GM. To point to just the unions, or management, is too simplistic. At some point, management realized that the model they were using wasn't sustainable, and at some point down the road it would fail. Unions grabbed every little concession they were given with the proverbial gun to the head being a strike. But, management knew they would for the most part be long gone before the moment of truth would come. What GM was left with was everybody getting their pound of flesh until only a skeleton was remaining. Very predictable, and very sad. It is interesting to note the few comments related to this story. A story as big as this is registering as barely a whimper. Instead, we have five of the six most commented on articles relating to the UM football team. Anybody else see an imbalance here? Sillytree: I concur with most of your points. Mr Aider: Thanks for the color commentary. Speechless: Does labor ever share the burden for any of our woes? Virtually every one of your comments relating to this topic is completely one-sided. Management/business bad, labor/unions good. May I suggest that this view simply can't be true all the time. Perhaps, however, if you begin to acknowledge the weaknesses in your defense, the game will be up.

Jay Thomas

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 6:23 p.m.

@leaguebus: The billion/quarter figure you mention is insignificant to a company like GM which lost eighty billion dollars over four years (the most lost ever by a manufacturing company). Such a company in a cyclical industry needs deep pockets to survive and pay all the laid off workers still collecting checks. When Ford recovered enough to earn a paltry one billion dollars (after having lost a heck of a lot more than that previously), the union immediately demanded a renegotiation of the contract that had just been negotiated. Try running a small business in a competitive industry around here like that, and I guarantee you will eventually go bankrupt.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:59 p.m.

I have no idea how the buyers will ever be able to remove some of the largest stamping presses. The crown (top most part) of these presses weighs 800 tons and is located 30 feet in the air, with the roof trusses only 7 feet above them. These pieces were hauled into place much as the Egyptians are surmised to have built the pyramids - by repetitively placing wooden rollers under the press parts as they crept down the aisle ways. Bull dozers were used to pull these parts, but even these were not strong enough unless they were chained to the building columns! It was fascinating to watch these be assembled by small armies of riggers.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

I remember GM employees getting 90%+ if they were "laid off" because there wasn't enough work. What kind of company can survive those strongarm cost burdens and tactics? Right to work is where it's at. Just look where all the new MFG jobs went in the last 20 years (Right to Work states). Labor unions had their time, place and purpose in history to protect workers rights. Ask any of the Right to Work auto employees if they think they are being treated fairly and you will find they think they are and are happy to be working.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:22 p.m.

At the same time GM was paying the "outrageous" union wages, they were making a $1B a quarter profit and selling lots of cars that people wanted. GM management blew the company by not spending more money on R and D and not dealing with the quality issues of the cars they made till it was too late. Most people that worked in auto plants worked hard and deserved every cent they were paid.

Ray D. Aider

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:18 p.m.

I took the time to peruse Maynard's site via the link listed in the article. Trust me, the lot listings they are showing are for the truly valuable newer usable machines. They are only representing a drop in the bucket of all the junk that is/was there.

Ray D. Aider

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 2 p.m.

@ Edward. Thanks for the link. It's noteworthy in the article that they were able to move the salvageable machinery to Willow Run and be up and running in a mere nine weeks. No small feat. I was going to mention that in my previous post, but not sure of the fact of "nine weeks". There was one particular gear shaver machine that I worked on that came from Livonia, that an electrician pointed out to me inside the electrical box there was definite and discernible evidence of decades old scorching. I thought it fairly historical and we both thought it fairly hysterical.

Jay Thomas

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:51 p.m.

@GRANDPABOB: There are too few executives for your reasoning to follow. Total executive pay is a drop in the bucket. The union holds a gun to the head of management over pay and the blames them with everyone else when the numbers don't add up. Nice try though. Ordinary Americans (also retired) had their stock and bond investments wiped out, while the union had new legislation written for them to avoid losing any of the obligations the company had to them (which is normal in bankruptcy folks) and to be given stock in the new company. In other countries when the workers take control of the means of production it is called communism. At least the management apologized to the American people. The unions have never apologized to anyone or thanked the taxpayer once for the bailout because they have an enormous entitlement mentality and are extremely narcissistic. When it was clear the company was bankrupt, they still took a hundred days (with the taxpayer paying their salary) to figure out if they should agree to any reductions themselves! Talk about being unable to recognize reality. Later they tried to get taxpayers (most of whom don't even have pensions) to bailout their pensions as well because they only care about themselves.

Ray D. Aider

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:41 p.m.

"You could stand in a main aisle and look both ways and not be able to either end." Should read "see either end". I wish you could edit posts here.

Ray D. Aider

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:29 p.m.

Most people reading this have no idea how much equipment and how many machines are involved here. Thousands. BIG STUFF and not so big stuff. The machine in the picture is an example of a small machine. Some newer stuff and some very old. I have worked on machines there that came from the Livonia plant that burned down in 1953. That fire is the reason GM bought the facility at Willow Run. They boasted for decades of having the largest array of automatic screw machines in the world located at the southeast corner of the plant. Those machines are very old for the most part but entirely still usable with the continual maintenance that is always necessary. Like the article points out, if you want to make some gears, look no further. Several dozens if not hundreds of "Fellows" gear shapers should still be there. I ran those machines for years. There are stamping presses in the center of the plant that have a larger work area than the size of the average house. Much of the machinery will probably be bought at scrap prices and be done away with. Do you have any idea how much copper is in a single 100 HP industrial electrical motor? Copper is over $3.00 per pound last time I checked. It would be quite a sight to see that place completely empty. The Willow Run Plant is only a few hundred feet shy of a mile. You could stand in a main aisle and look both ways and not be able to either end. True, there was some empty floor space but not that much. The sale should be a boon for local industrial moving companies, welders, millwrights, electricians, and cargo rail. You have no idea how much is really there. No idea. It would boggle your mind. Sad. No political comments here.....just sad.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:26 p.m.

@ GRANDPABOOB, Foreign junk? You're kidding me? If GM had built quality vehicles from the get go and made the necessary investments into R & D, this plant would still be open.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:11 p.m.

Of course, the Willow Run plant wasn't shut down due to the "selfishness" of UAW members. Those who worked there mainly wanted to earn a middle class living in return for doing highly repetitive jobs which could also be physically demanding, depending upon one's assembly line assignment. The plant was brought down through the greed and incompetence of GM's executive leadership and top stockholders. In a more technically advanced global economy, it became profitable to replace their reasonably well-paid U.S. employees with the near-slave labor available in northern Mexico and elsewhere. For a while, especially during the 1990s, the windfall reaped via cheap, outsourced labor helped offset GM's lack of a long-term strategy. At this point, when you want to "Buy American," you purchase a Toyota. ------------ Nevertheless, it didn't have to turn out this way for facilities based in the U.S. Our federal trade policies have long encouraged businesses to locate their manufacturing operations outside the U.S. Not only has this approach been highly destructive to available domestic employment opportunities, it is also completely arbitrary. The outsourcing of labor could have been — and still can be — fought in a variety of ways, including the application of high tariffs on imported goods, which will remove the financial windfall gained from slave labor. This may be combined with very heavy federal penalties or fees for moving jobs outside the county. Above and beyond reining in corporate bad behavior, the U.S. also has the option to 'redeploy' its almost $700 billion a year military budget for far more productive purposes. Applying, let's say, a few hundred billion each year to grants and loans given to small, local, and worker-owned operations may not end the current Great Recession overnight, yet over time it would go a long way toward building a more stable economic environment for all.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 11:42 a.m.

It always amazes me how people sit back and talk about how greedy unions are and it is these so called greedy unions that cause everything else to remain prosperous whether they have a union or not. What do I mean by this all the businesses around GM or any other factory benefit from the union brothers and sisters buying whatever they are selling. I bust my behind @ Hydra-Matic/ PowerTrain for 30 years and the wages paid to me were earned.Before I left we all seemed to have our own personal supervisor and no one ever says anything about how wasteful that was, but it was very wasteful. GM was good to me and the union better...they told me I would never get a year of work in before the plant closed back in 1978, so for it to just be closing in 2010 is good. People looking form the outside don't realize Willow Run did no real hiring since 1978, so how can it be a surprise the place is closing? The place is just to big to be productive, the roof leaks, too much empty floor space and just too big to heat or cool...lay off the unions, without them you probably wouldn't have a job.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

R.I.P. Ypsi


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:08 a.m.

It appears that some of the commenter's sarcasm-detectors are busted. Maybe GM will have some working ones for sale at the auction.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 9:38 a.m.

@Silly Sally: You're reading my mind.

Silly Sally

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 9:21 a.m.

the Chinese are not our friends. Same government that killed Americans in Korea and Vietnam, and shot down our airplane 9 years ago. They are economic enemies as well, at least to American workers. Importers such as Walmart and Target make vast profits from outsourcing. They are industrial spies, and steal intellectual property such as software and DVD movies.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:52 a.m.

Our Chinese friends will make out like the bandits they are. With a weak dollar, they will be paying scrap value. Good for them; bad for the U.S.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

The Willow Run plant is a symbol of America's post World War II manufacturing power. Selling off the equipment makes it, to my opinion, a symbol of America's manufacturing power in the 21th century. Both the white and blue collar workers got too comfortable in their shared opinion that GM was on permanent ground as the world's largest company because people will always need cars. Therefore, they lost their competitive edge. Now GM struggles to regain that edge. Hopefully they will sucess, but as for GM becoming the world's largest company again lives only in the past.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:46 a.m.

Foreign junk? My 3 Honda Civics and Toyota Matrix will probably outlast most GM vehicles of the same time period. GM failed because of several reasons. Quality was not important until it was too late. Rediculous labor contracts that paid some employees too much (while working and when they weren't working), too many layers of management. A product line that was spread way too wide. The high salaries of a few executives did not cause the failure of such a huge organization. Thankfully their cars are now on par with Honda and Toyota. I will certainly look at GM and Ford for my next purchase. By the way, I did own a 2000 Ford Windstar. Biggest piece of XXXX I ever bought. Was so happy to get rid of it since it cost me over $5000 a year (original sales price less what I received for it) and the gas mileage was around 16 - 18.

Silly Sally

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:39 a.m.

The factory was just a good building, it is the much more modern insides that counts. Look at the machinery that is now being auctioned. I remember in 1998 when GM had a short strike, a striker applied for a job at our company. She made more than our engineers, was poorly educated, and all she did was place one screw or bolt on a product as it passed by. She made over $60 k a year! No wonder GM found less expensive suppliers elsewhere.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:39 a.m.

The auction is open to the public if any of you old "Hydramatic hands" are interested. The auction starts at 10 am; show up at 9:30 am to register. Enter through the old admin building.

Silly Sally

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:35 a.m.

It is the fault of both greedy unions, especially with their work restriction rules, and lazy top management that gave in to them since the problems would not manifest itself until after the managers were gone. It is no surprise that all new auto factories are being opened in the right-to-work American south. Top management ignored the quality issue for too long in the 1970s and 80s. It also set up a very top-heavy system that did not inspire innovation as a more nimble org could, and did. Top management gave into the unions years ago. allowing an impossible situation to develop. Then, they ignored better quality foreign cars. When they fixed these issues in the 1990s, Foreign cars by then had a better name and a whole generation of potential buyers never even considered a GM car. A college friend once owned a Chevy Monza 25 years ago, it was a bad car, and she has not bought American car since. Just one bad apple amongst a barrel of good cars can sour a buyer for life.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:34 a.m.

This is a very sad time for me and I'm sure a lot of exemployee like myself to see this plant close. It has provided a good life for a lot of people. As GM move to the future I hope and pray this dose not happen to future employes.Good luck to all of my X co-workers


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

This is a very sad time for me and I'm sure a lot of exemployee like myself to see this plant close. It has provided a good life for a lot of people. As GM move to the future I hope and pray this dose not happen to future employes.Good luck to all of my X co-workers

Top Cat

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

Perhaps a factory this old and one that was built to assemble B-24s just had to go. However, China is focused on growing their economy and adding jobs. We are focused on paying people not to work, redistributing income, fighting foreign wars and maintaining a rickety empire. It is not too late to wise up.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 6:55 a.m.

Peter, it is more likekly the executives high pay and bonused (unearned ) that caused a lot of the problem. And people buying all the foreign junk!


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 6:41 a.m.

it's too bad that the labor unions had such a tight grip on the gonads of the auto industry.