Stuck in neutral since late July, the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant is almost ready to gear back up.
Nearly all of the Corvette plant’s hourly workers have taken vacation time and drawn unemployment benefits for the past three months as the plant was reworked in preparation for manufacturing 2018 models and beginning to produce 2019 models.
Reopening the Corvette plant, one of Bowling Green’s best-known and largest employers, Nov. 6 could mean a boost for the local economy, although a company spokeswoman indicated that not all employees will be brought back immediately.
“The plant will resume operations next month,” said Lauren Langille, a communications representative for the GM plants in Spring Hill, Tenn., and Bowling Green. “Employees will be returning to work throughout October and November based on training requirements as we prepare for production.”
A list of Bowling Green’s top employers produced by the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce has the Corvette plant’s employment at 887. That number fluctuates with the addition of temporary workers, and Langille isn’t expecting a big change in employment levels.
“Employment levels will be similar to what they were before shutdown once all employees are brought back throughout the next few months,” she said.
State incentives granted to GM last year would indicate that the plant could get an employment boost.
The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority approved GM for up to $3 million in tax incentives through the Kentucky Business Investment program. The incentives are based on eligible company investments of up to $153 million.
The KEDFA application said GM will be required to maintain a base employment equal to or greater than 1,030 full-time Kentucky resident employees.
Increasing employment could be problematic, based on Corvette sales figures.
U.S. Corvette sales this year have trailed the previous three years and are on pace for the lowest sales volume since 2013. Further hampering sales is the limited production volume this year due to the shutdown. Only 9,700 2018 Corvettes are expected to be produced, a big drop from volumes that topped 30,000 in recent years.
But GM’s huge investment in the plant indicates that growth could be in the cards for the plant that sits next to Interstate 65.
The extended shutdown was for equipment installation, setting up the new car build process for the 2018 Corvette and finishing construction of the nearly $500 million paint shop. Plant Manager Kai Spande said the total cost of reworking the plant comes to nearly $900 million.
The new paint shop will mean some changes at the plant, according to Langille.
“The paint shop is now complete and has been designed specifically to optimize the performance of carbon fiber and other materials that are used in the Corvette body panels,” said Langille. “As a result, customers can expect to see an improved paint appearance and finish. In addition, the paint shop is equipped with the latest advanced environmental controls to minimize our ecological footprint.”
In addition to the paint shop, Langille said other changes have been made to the plant.
“During the shutdown, we made significant changes to the build process to enhance ergonomics for the operator and to improve vehicle quality,” she said. “For example, panels will be installed near the end of the build process in one location, as opposed to several locations throughout the process.”
Workers will be assembling 2018 Corvettes when the plant reopens and continue doing so through the week of Jan. 22, 2018. They will then shift gears and start manufacturing the 2019 model of the iconic sports car Jan. 29.
Speculation in trade publications such as Motor Trend and Auto Week has the 2019 Corvette featuring a mid-engine design that would enhance the car’s handling characteristics and make it comparable to such exotic sports cars as Ferrari and Porsche.
Corvettes being produced now are part of the car’s seventh generation, which debuted in 2013. Speculation in trade publications and websites such as GM Authority and Autoguide.com is that the eighth generation of the Corvette will include hybrid technology among other possible redesigns.
GM began Corvette production at the Bowling Green plant in 1981. The facility has remained the exclusive home of the Corvette ever since. With more than 1.6 million produced since 1954, the Corvette is the world’s longest-running, continuously produced passenger car.