General Motors Detroit Transmission Division purchased the giant Willow Run Kaiser-Frazer plant during November of 1953 as a result of an August 12, 1953 fire that destroyed their nearly new Livonia transmission plant. In just twelve weeks from the date of the fire, the manufacture of Hydra-matic automatic transmissions at Willow Run began. Detroit Transmission was renamed the GM Hydra-matic Division in 1963.
The Hydra-matic Division manufactured automatic transmissions for 11 automobile companies outside of GM’s own divisions with its most famous customer being Rolls Royce. During the plants 57 year history, 82 million automatic transmissions were built there. During the Viet Nam War, in addition to transmissions, M16 rifles and aircraft cannons were manufactured at the plant. The plant also served as the world wide engineering center for automatic transmissions.
Finally, the plant was renamed GM Powertrain Division in 1991. On June 1, 2009, General Motors announced the closing of the plant as part of their bankruptcy restructuring. A total of 1,364 workers were then employed. The plant closed in December of 2010.