Plant’s Turning Point
New Line Continues 21-Year Reversal In Cummins’ Fortunes
What a difference two decades makes.
A little more than two decades ago, there was a sense that Busti was on the verge of losing the Cummins Inc. Jamestown Engine Plant.
In mid-2001, Cummins officials decided to discontinue development of a new heavy-duty engine that was to have been built at the Busti plant. That decision created doubt among many about the future. But in October 2002 the decision was announced to close a location in Columbus, Ind., and keep the Jamestown site open in a move that saved $15 million in 2003 and $20 million a year in subsequent years. Rather than close the Jamestown plant, the news brought an expansion.
Now, the Jamestown Engine Plant has been firmly placed in Cummins’ future plans again with the formal announcement Monday that the company will manufacture its new line of fuel agnostic engines.
“For those of us that were around when that announcement was made in the 2002 timeframe — it was actually at the end of 2001 — but in that timeframe it was really a game changer for us as a plant and a community to secure our future with both Cummins and here in the community,” said Anna Dibble, current Cummins Jamestown Engine Plant manager and longtime Cummins employee. “Certainly this is also one of those pivotal times in the plant. There is a lot of excitement about the investments being made and those investments are really across three areas: that’s in expanding our current capacity, it’s the investments into the new products and platforms that are being developed as part of our Destination Zero strategy and it’s also as part of our Plant 2050 work to have the facility itself be net zero impact from a facilities standpoint. People are really excited about that. It’s a lot of work and we’re running really hard trying to balance those two things. It’s really a challenge. But people have really stepped up and are embracing this moment and the challenges that we have.”
A DIFFERENT PICTURE
Roughly halfway through 2021, Cummins saw sales United States sales volumes for heavy-duty trucks, pickup trucks and recreational vehicles decrease between 20% and 60%, prompting a companywide evaluation. The disintegration of a proposed joint venture between Cummins and Navistar in June 2001 also brought to an end a use for a projected new engine line at the Jamestown Engine Plant. The decision not to develop engines for Navistar saved Cummins roughly $200 million, according to press reports at the time, but Cummins officials were still forced to ask both New York state and the state of Indiana for help. Cummins asked the state for $65 million as part of a $100 million project while asking Indiana for a $35 million loan.
In March, Cummins’ corporate officials told The Post-Journal decisions were to be made about employment at the local plant because demand for engines had slowed so much.
“I understand we told our employees in January that by mid-March we would look again at demand (for engines) and if demand had not increased we would look at layoffs,” Jason Rawlings, former Cummins public relations director, said in March 2002 shortly before 35 layoffs were announced.
Shortly thereafter, Cummins posted a first quarter losses of $29 million after taxes followed by $13 million in earnings for the second quarter of 2022.
That’s what people knew when it was announced former Gov. George Pataki was visiting the Jamestown Engine Plant on Oct. 9, 2002. Employees were braced for the worst.
“I think it’s good,” assembly line worker Lynn McIntyre said after Pataki announced a deal had been struck to bring 500 new jobs to the Busti facility. “I was worried about getting laid off in January. Now I don’t have to worry about that. They said this morning they’re going to call most of the people back or all of them if they don’t already have jobs. I think that’s great too.”
The Jamestown Engine Plant’s gain came at the expense of a Cummisn plant in Columbus, Ind. — home of Cummins’ corporate headquarters. The decision came down in part to a new assembly line in the Jamestown-area plant and the fact that changing Jamestown’s assembly line would result in less lost production than the same work at the Columbus, Ind., plant.
“It’s great news there, not the best news here,” Rawlings said from the Cummins’ corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ind. “The other side of that is it could have gone the other way. Not only do you have the new jobs and the retention of present jobs, you have about 750 jobs there now. It’s easier to talk about the good news there.”
As Dibble said, the October 2002 announcement was a game changer.
LOOK FORWARD TO THE FUTURE
Cummins conference calls these days sound a lot different than they did back in 2002. Typically, corporate officials are touting record earnings, growing profits and investments in new and exciting technologies.
One of those technologies will enter production at the Jamestown Engine Plant next year after Cummins’ $452 million investment to add new equipment to make the X15N fuel-agnostic internal combustion engine that can operate on lower-carbon fuel types.
The X15N is being tested with natural-gas fuel on commercial vehicles by fleet operators that include Walmart, Werner, and Matheson, Cummins reported. Orders have already begun coming in for the new engine. In August, PACCAR and Cummins jointly announced that the Cummins X15N natural gas engine will be used in new Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks. That test, according to Srikanth Padmanabhan, Cummins vice president and Engine Business president, has gone well.
“So far very good,” Padmanabhan said. “For the first time we are actually offering power and torque requirements that are similar to diesel. Before what we had it was a smaller engine but we couldn’t use it for particularly all applications. But as this over the line, long haul trucking you can actually use these because it’s actually 450 horsepower, 1,800 foot pounds of torque, those kinds of things that we didn’t have necessarily. That’s combined with our engine and transmission that’s allowing us to go into those markets where people have been asking us for a long period of time. So Walmart, particularly those two trucks that have been there, those drivers I met them recently in Anaheim, Calif., they were super excited. We’ve still got work to do. It’s still in the early stages. We’ll get there.”
The engine will include the integration of the Cummins Clean Fuel Technologies fuel delivery system. Cummins also has a memorandum of understand with Tata Auto Group, which owns the TitanX plant in Jamestown, for hydrogen-fueled engines. When operating on renewable natural gas, also known as RNG or biomethane, the X15N engine will be able to achieve major reductions in the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks. This can range from a 90% reduction to carbon neutral, or even carbon negative, depending on the bio-source and waste feedstock used to produce the fuel. The new X15N is capable of lower nitrogen oxide levels than the 2024 EPA and CARB standards.
In addition to the Tata and PACCAR agreements, the X15 engine is a key part of Cummins’ efforts to build business in China, which has adopted more stringent emissions standards. Cummins’ total revenue in China is projected to increase 7% in 2023 with slow improvement in sales of on-highway vehicles.
Dibble said Jamestown Engine Plant officials have been working with stakeholders throughout the company for to prepare the plant for the transition to the fuel agnostic engine line. That included recent county Industrial Development Agency approval of a $3 million sales tax exemption for the project.
“We work very collaboratively across our business as well as the other businesses and stakeholders within Cummins to really put our strategy into place,” Dibble said. “We’ve been working quite extensively over several years getting to this point. It really speaks to a couple of things. It’s really our current products are doing very well in the field, so we have a lot of customer pull. That is also helping us. And really embracing the challenges around the net zero emissions as well as the Destination Zero roadmap. So I think it’s really telling with how we partner between our current products as well as looking to the future of how do we set ourselves up as a company and as a plant to be ready for the change in technologies and how do we innovate today just like we’ve donei n our history to continue to look forward? As a standalone plant we can’t do it alone and there are many stakeholders, so we’ve certainly seen a lot of support across all of the Cummins stakeholders to celebrate this milestone and use this to look forward to the future and the fuel agnostic products.”