The Orion manufacturing facility doesn’t share much with other General Motors plants in the United States. Foremost, it’s become a hub for small-car production, while other GM plants in the U.S. churn out SUVs, crossovers and trucks.
But, the facility has a bright future even as small-car sales wane, buyers turn to utility vehicles and the Orion plant itself faces the end of Chevrolet Sonic production. GM is building Orion to be the electric-car hub it needs.
Orion’s most important product, the 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV, doesn’t deliver much volume now, but GM is banking on electric-car sales to take off in the near future. It’s not unlikely Orion will soon build two new electric cars, either. Of the 20 new battery-electric cars coming from GM by 2023, two of them will share the Bolt EV’s architecture.
That’s good news for Orion, which has run just a single shift since 2015—a likely sign of underutilization. However, GM has worked to keep costs down at the plant and build small cars in the U.S., while rival makes often import similar cars from cheaper labor markets. The 1,000 workers present at the Orion plant work on a progression wage scale, and the kitting operation was brought back to the plant years ago to bundle cost savings.
Aside from speculative product, Orion also builds the Cruise AV, GM’s self-driving vehicle based on the Bolt EV. Soon, the plant will build production Cruise AV models. The automaker plans to roll out the self-driving car in an unknown city next year.