For over 30 years General Motors has been building the iconic Corvette at its Bowling Green Assembly plant in Kentucky. But ask an employee at the plant what they make there, and they’ll tell you it’s not cars they build, but dreams.
The plant recently went under a $131 million renovation for the C7 changeover, and it’s money well spent as the C7 Corvette now has a plant in which a world class sports car deserves to be built. $52 million of the total investment has gone into a body shop in order to build the new, precisely constructed aluminum frame, which is 99 pounds lighter and 40% stiffer than the outgoing C6’s. The frame is so stiff that convertible models will not have to go under any chassis stiffening, and that’s a rare thing. Aluminum resistance spot welding is used on the frame, an efficient method of joining aluminum to aluminum. Robots laser weld sheet aluminum panels to the frames tunnel sub assembly, in total there is over 37 feet of laser welds on every frame. Flowdrill-machined screws are used in body structure joining, where arc welding could cause heat distortion or weaken the metal.
“The new aluminum-welding process enabled us to make the frame lighter and stiffer, improving the performance and driving confidence,” said Plant Manager Dave Tatman. “Measuring 100 points on every frame reduces the chance for unwanted squeaks and rattles that would distract from the driving experience.”
GM has also said it will be moving its Performance Build Center in Wixom, MI where it hand builds engines for the Corvette and Camaro as well performance crate engines, to the Bowling Green facility in Kentucky. The move will cost $3.5 million and is set to take place in Q1 of 2014.
Apart from receiving an all new body shop, the plant is more open and organized. There is more room for the workers and better lit work spaces. GM says the goal was to give the employees the opportunity to make a flawless product for the customers. Some of the equipment and tools prior to the renovation had not been replaced since the plant produced the C4 Corvette.
The assembly line is mesmerizing to watch. As GM says, at Bowling Green, precision never rests. Much of the car is assembled with almost none of body panels attached. Whereas most cars have the body panels attached and are then painted afterwards, the Corvette has pre-painted body panels installed throughout the assembly line. The windshield surround and dashboard, complete with steering wheel and all, come in one piece and are attached to the frame. After that, various pieces of interior trim are installed, as well as the doors, rear hatch, rear fascia front and rear windshield and more. After the chassis is married to the body, the car starts to come together with the hood and front and rear bumpers being installed.
Once the car is lowered onto the ground, it is inspected under blindingly bright lights for any dings or imperfections. It is then driven into a Dynamic Vehicle Testing booth, where over 800 performance tests are done on the car in under 2 minutes. The birth of this American icon takes about 3 days, but at the Bowling Green plant, you can watch it all happen in about an hour by scheduling a plant tour.
Starting October 14th, Bowling Green Assembly will be resuming factory tours that allows customers and the public alike to see how the Chevrolet makes Corvette customers’ dreams come true. Tours had been put on hold for over a year after the plant went under renovation last fall.