Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Corvette Promised Land: Bowling Green, Kentucky--June 21, 2016: Part 2--The GM Assembly Plant

Our car returns home, nine years to the month it was built in Bowling Green
The Chevrolet Corvette, as a comparatively small-volume vehicle, has only been built in a few places.  The first 300 cars were constructed in 1953 in a very makeshift arrangement in Flint, Michigan and then production moved the next year to St. Louis, Missouri, where Corvettes were assembled until 1981, when the Bowling Green, Kentucky, factory (formerly used for the manufacture of Chrysler air-conditioning units) was opened.

The plant sits on a 212 acre site and covers 1,450,000 square feet, including the recently opened paint facility which is nearly 500,000 square feet.   It has around 1,000 employees, of which 840 work on the line.  The plant generally produces about 150 cars daily in a single shift.

Parking in front of the administration office and the famous Corvette plant sign, I was pleased to see that there were lots of Corvettes owned by employees.

I was fortunate on this blazing hot day to be able to visit the plant, which typically gets around 50,000 visitors per year, with three tours daily.  The plant is now closed to visitors due to a number of changeovers until early 2019.  Rumours are rife about new Corvette models but I was there to see the fabulous C7 being assembled.

As photography is not allowed in the plant, I have downloaded a number of nice photos courtesy of General Motors:

The aluminum chassis of the C7 is made in Bowling Green now; previous C6 Z06 frames were brought in although the Base C6 had a steel chassis made in the plant.  In addition, the High-Performance Facility was moved to Bowling Green from Tonawanda, New York, in 2014 for assembly of the Z06 LT4 engine, with its supercharger and 650 hp.  For an additional fee (US$5,000) customers can assemble their own LT4 under the watchful eye of a technician--and the customer gets to sign it off in the end of the process.  Nice!

Here is a video showing the whole production process for the C7:

At the end of the line I was amazed to see the test driver start the car and then slam it over a series of ridges on the floor.  This apparently sets the suspension as up to this point the car has had basically no weight on the wheels.  This gives one confidence as to the integrity of the car.  The driver then takes the brand new car to a test cell where, after the doors closed, it is hammered with monsoon-like rain for 10 minutes in a search for leaks.  So those owners who never drive their cars in rain have no reason not to...

The plant is much quieter than I had expected, although plastic-bodied cars are part of the reason I suppose.  As well, air circulation was very good so one did not have the impression of the sweltering heat that was outside.

As I drove my older car away from the plant, some of the test drivers were out.  Their cars were covered with cloth that would be used as protection when being shipped on the transport trucks.  It was especially nice when one of the drivers beeped his horn and waved at me.  Corvette people for sure!  A very enjoyable visit and I sure that the employees must be proud of their handiwork.

(As we drove in Indiana a few days later we passed a car transporter that was coming from Bowling Green with a load of new Corvettes.  I missed a chance to photograph it as I was driving at the time but here are pictures of what it looks like:)

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