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Struggling Lordstown Motors opens its doors as it tries to rev up production

The startup EV truckmaker took Roadshow for a ride in its Endurance electric pickup and showed what progress it's making in the wake of its financial strife.

"Cameras down, please." That was the phrase of the day at a media tour of the former General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio on Tuesday. After the final Chevrolet Cruze left this sprawling manufacturing facility in early 2019, GM sold the plant to startup Lordstown Motors Corporation, which is hell-bent on bringing its Endurance all-electric pickup truck to market. 

There's a lot LMC wanted to show off, and many of its team members, a handful of them experienced GM manufacturing minds, were happy to speak of the progress made. At the same time, cracks are showing -- unlike in the newly poured and epoxied area of the plant floor where electric hub-motor production is slated to begin. (That's an area I can't actually show you because, again: "Cameras down, please.")

After a brief ride in a beta-stage Endurance and a lengthy tour, it remains to be seen whether LMC will cross the finish line to series production. Tuesday's event didn't necessarily leave me with more questions than answers, but it's clear the startup's in a critical phase. It apparently wants to break out pom-poms and cheer while still sorting out its financials. Whether that veneer of stability will hold up to scrutiny remains to be seen.

Brisk opening remarks from Lordstown Chairman and interim CEO Angela Strand, who addressed media without taking questions, mentioned "higher-than-expected expenses" tooling up for production. The pandemic further squeezed the firm, according to Strand, who added that parts costs are higher than expected. A search for additional funding is under way as you read this, and strategic partnerships are on the table. LMC also declined to make an executive available for questions during the tour.

The big screen remained in a demo mode, flicking through various static screens.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

Without an opportunity to ask any questions, journalists were shuffled to an area where we experienced brief ride-alongs in the company's all-electric truck. Those drives went off without a hitch. The beta Endurance pickups all move under their own power and the overall design is close to what the expected production truck will end up looking like. According to the company, the in-wheel hub motors (one at each wheel on the Endurance) function as advertised, and power didn't come from any other source other than the floor-mounted battery pack jammed with Samsung and LG cells. Those in-wheel motors, by the way, aren't an LMC design. They come from a Slovenian company by the name of Elaphe; LMC just bought the rights to use them. 

Acceleration was limited to 45 miles per hour during my ride-along, though I'm happy to report the pickup scoots pretty much like any other EV, with instantaneous torque. My driver thrashed the truck over some large bumps in the factory's parking lot, took a slalom and showed off what was, honestly, an impressive turning radius for a full-size pickup. The interior feels like your typical work truck with a shot of tech, thanks to a large horizontal screen that remained in a demo mode. The digital gauge cluster functions, however, and reports the driver's speed.

These are not production trucks, and it would be unfair to knock LMC for squeaks, rattles or the jiggly ride at this stage. In fact, everything looked a lot like production-intent components -- and like LMC flipped through a few pages of the GM parts catalog.

In total, LMC said it built 60 beta trucks total. Three of them were early trials and nine went through the federal government's crash tests to meet safety standards. The Endurance, according to Chief Engineer Darren Post, passed with zero issues. The trucks on display at various parts of the tour are for demonstration purposes and don't count toward that 60-figure total.

LMC noted it recently started using the plant's robots to put pickups together.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

Later in the day, employees carted me and the rest of the media visitors to other parts of the facility where workers will stamp various components -- once all the dies arrive, the same month production's meant to begin. A video shows us some of the orphaned GM robots welding pieces of the Endurance's cab together. A handful of LMC's 450-person workforce attaches doors to a cab and a group of workers manages the first piece of the company's planned in-house battery pack assembly area as pieces zip by on a conveyor line. It's all a bit lonesome, considering the plant sprawls 6.2 million square-feet and in its prime churned out hundreds of thousands of cars a year. LMC consistently reiterates the value in all this extra space for the possibility of future products, however, assuming the company itself has any future beyond 2021.

In all, it seems like LMC's operations take up about 10% of the entire facility, and many of the robots whizzing up and down on the tour weren't doing much of anything at all. The area meant for in-wheel hub motors doesn't exist yet, with plans to bring in the manufacturing equipment this August, around a month before the Endurance is meant to start production.

While there's certainly merit to the progress this company made, it all feels a bit mirage-like because of a string of worrisome actions and LMC's most recent financial report. Documentation shows the now-public company is bleeding cash and may not be able to continue as a "going concern" -- there may not be enough capital in the bank to put the Endurance into production. Less than a week later, LMC's CEO and founder Steve Burns and CFO Julio Rodriguez resigned their positions. The company later clarified it has no binding orders for its truck, and its latest financial filings confirm reported deficiencies in its internal practices.

All in all, it's been a rough ride for those that have hitched their wagon to Lordstown. The company insists its first electric trucks will roll down the assembly line in late September, touting that it has "real workers and a real plant." On the tour, one employee commented, "We're ready to turn the shop back on," as a leftover GM press made trial stampings for the Endurance. For now, the lights are on in this vast complex, which is littered with remnants of auto manufacturing's glory days, but it's simply unknown if and when that switch may suddenly flip off at LMC.