Construction on the AM General assembly plant in Mishawaka, IN, that will be home to General Motors Corp.'s Hummer H2 sport/utility vehicle is on schedule, with the building's shell set to be completed in March, an AM General spokesman tells Ward's.

“It's right on target. The equipment started going into the paint shop Jan. 15, which is the date laid out by planners in 1999,” says the spokesman.

The project is about one-third complete. Framing is underway for the general assembly area and should be finished within two months. Tooling installation then will commence and require most of the remainder of 2001. Some pilot production likely will occur prior to year's end. The H2 is scheduled to go on sale in 2002.

AM General expects to begin filling soon the 1,500 job openings required to run the 600,000-sq.-ft. facility. “We've hired a few senior people already,” says the spokesman. “We haven't made an announcement officially starting the hiring process. But that's imminent, probably within a month. We'll hire mostly salary first. And we'll have most of the hourly workers on board by summer.”

United Auto Workers Local 5 will represent hourly personnel slated to churn out 40,000 Hummer H2 units annually at full production. The AM General spokesman says GM has not indicated plans for volume beyond that or for a second product. GM is known to be working on a smaller H3 model.

GM also is yet to signal whether it will expand its business relationship with AM General. The current agreement gives GM exclusive ownership of the HUMMER brand worldwide but doesn't include AM General's military applications.

“There is an option that GM can exercise down the road to take some interest in AM General. What that boils down to is that they expect us to be successful and would like to share in it. But they've not given any indication they're going to do so,” says the AM General spokesman.

The South Bend, IN-based company posted its first profit in six years in 2000. Three months ago, AM General signed a seven-year deal valued at $2 billion with the U.S. government to continue making the military version of the Hummer H1, called the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or Humvee. “It demonstrates the government's commitment to the Humvee as its light tactical vehicle,” says the AM General spokesman.

Meanwhile, Hummer last week landed a new marketing chief and found itself the target of a lawsuit. Liz Vanzura, a former top marketing executive at Volkswagen of America Inc., takes the ad reins at Hummer March 1. Ms. Vanzura helped develop the award-winning, idiosyncratic ads that aided Volkswagen's U.S. revival. She is the second creative force to leave VW for Hummer. Last year, Lance Jensen left VW's ad agency, Arnold, and co-founded Modernista, which GM hired to handle Hummer ad duties.

DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s lawsuit argues that the grille on the upcoming H2 model is too close in design to what it contends is its trademark Jeep 7-slat grille. DCC is asking the court to block GM from using the grille and force it to recall any H2s that make it to market with the offending part.