By now, everyone has pretty much heard that the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant will be shutting down for at least a couple of months after 2017 Corvette production comes to an end in June.
In January, GM announced that it would be temporarily shutting down 15 of its assembly plants due to a glut of cars on dealer lots and increasing demand for SUVs over cars. The Bowling Green Assembly Plant was one of those Assembly Plants, however, the shutdown was only from Jan. 1 to Jan. 6, said Monica Williams, president of UAW Local 2164. According to Lauren Langille, spokeswoman for the Corvette plant, “We had the regular shutdown for the holidays and there needed to be construction done on the paint shop,” Langille said. “There are also maintenance needs.”
Around that same time, a spokeswoman for the Assembly Plant stated that the plant would be shutting down later this year in order to install equipment for a new build process and make some assembly line upgrades. Although exact dates and times had not been determined, the temporary shut down would cover parts of the summer and fall.
The last week to order a 2017 Corvette is April 13th, 2017 with final build out being June 2nd 2017. All 2017 Corvette orders have to be placed in GM’s system by April 17th. 2018 Corvette production will start in early June and run through the month of July, however the plant will be closed the months of August, September and October with 2018 production resuming in November.
Assuming that no major changes are being made to the C7 Corvette with the exception of the much anticipated ZR1 model, and since the Assembly Plant only shuts down for a couple of week in June between model years of a generation, is anyone wondering why “assembly line upgrades” are being made between model years necessitating a shutdown we would expect to see between a generation change?
Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant Expansion
In May of 2015, GM announced that it was investing $439 million for a new paint shop and facility upgrades followed by an announcement by GM on December 9, 2015 that it was investing an additional $44 million in the Bowling Green Assembly plant to support increased capacity in its Performance Build Center, adding 36 new jobs.
On June 24, 2016, General Motors announced it will invest $290 million into the Bowling Green Assembly plant to upgrade and modify the plant’s vehicle assembly operations with new technologies and processes. The official press release stated “This investment continues GM’s drive for flexible manufacturing systems. These changes are being made in conjunction with and in addition to the construction and startup of the previously announced $439 million paint shop investment.”
The new “paint shop” was under construction at the Assembly Plant all last year, but it’s hard to believe that just a paint shop could cost $439 million.
In looking at recent satellite photography, we can see the enormous scale of the new “paint shop”. Below is an aerial view of the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant prior to the new “paint shop”:
For perspective, the red box indicates the main entrance in front of the Assembly Plant. Below is an aerial photo of the Assembly Plant showing the new “paint shop”:
Again, the red box indicates the main entrance in front of the Assembly Plant.
As you can see, that is one ENORMOUS paint shop! Or is it?
Enter the Much Anticipated Mid-Engine Corvette
For a couple of years now, we’ve been hearing all the rumors of a mid-engine Corvette in development and spy photographers have wasted no time in capturing prototypes undergoing track and cold weather testing. (Click on the images for a larger view)
Code-named Zora, the mid-engine Corvette is expected to usher in the new C8 Corvette generation for the 2019 model year.
Some Corvette enthusiasts believe that the mid-engine Corvette is nothing but a myth and would never see the light of day. Some believe it’s actually a mid-engine Cadillac that will serve as a halo car for Cadillac much like the 2004 – 2009 Cadillac XLR was supposed to do. However, when you take a look at the enormous revolutionary change that the Cadillac brand is currently experiencing under the watchful eye of Cadillac President, Johan de Nysschen, a mid-engine Cadillac just doesn’t make sense.
In the past, Corvette Chief Engineer, Tadge Juechter has stated to the automotive media that in light of the current Z06 putting out 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, GM has taken the current front-engine Corvette platform as far as it can possibly go.
Assuming that what we see above winter testing along side of a 2018 Corvette ZR1 is in fact, a mid-engine Corvette, it certainly looks like it’s on track for a late 2018 release as the new C8 Corvette…or is it?
On May 16, 2016, we published an article here at the Corvette Action Center stating:
To throw more fuel on the mid-engine fire, the Corvette Action Center has recently heard rumors that the mid-engine Corvette could be built along side of the C7 Corvette and will continue into the C8 generation as C7 Corvette production winds down.
There seems to be two trains of thought out there. On the one hand, the mid-engine Corvette will usher in the start of C8 production as a 2019 model year, while on the other hand, mid-engine Corvette production could bleed into the current C7 Corvette production with the 2018 Corvette model year being the last of the front-engined Corvettes.
So Why the Extended Shut-Down for “Assembly Line Upgrades” Now?
Let’s take a minute and look at the facts.
Over the last couple of years, GM has invested a grand total of $773 million into the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant. $439 million of that is for a new “paint shop” and other upgrades. When you compare the two satellite images of the Assembly Plant above showing the expansion, it’s really kind of hard to believe that the addition, which looks like it’s the size of the original Assembly Plant, is nothing more than a “paint shop”.
Whether you want to believe that a mid-engine Corvette is coming or not is up to you, however, we have the spy photos above and Corvette Engineering feels that they have reached the performance limits of a front-engine platform with the current Z06 Corvette.
In order to switch to a mid-engine layout for the Corvette, the C7 Corvette would have to undergo a major overhaul. Almost no parts of the current Corvette could be carried over. A mid-engine Corvette would require engineering a whole new chassis, creating a new transaxle, a new body and new air-conditioning and suspension systems.
The Corvette Assembly Plant usually shuts down for only two weeks in between model year changes and longer when it comes to changing between generations. So, if the C7 model year is expected to end with the 2018 Corvette and the 2019 Corvette starts the new C8 generation, why would the Assembly Plant be undergoing a potential four month shut down now?
Our prediction? The front-engine Corvette platform will not end. It will continue well into the C8 generation. The mid-engine Corvette is a reality. It’s coming whether you want to believe it or not. The mid-engine Corvette will be built along side the front-engine Corvette platform. Because of the differences between front and mid-engine platforms, both cars can’t be built on the same assembly line and require two separate lines.
What we’re seeing above as a “new paint shop”, is not just a paint shop, but rather space to build the new mid-engine Corvette. The front-engine Corvette will continue to be built on the same assembly line as it is now.
What’s that you say? You still still think the mid-engine Corvette is total bull? Take a look at Ferrari.
Ferrari has been successfully building both front and mid-engine cars for years now. The business model works – the company is extremely profitable – and production numbers increase each year. While still expensive in comparison to the cost of a top of the line Corvette, Ferrari recognizes the value in offering both front and mid-engine platforms and offers a variety of models for different wallets and different driving goals.
So is it really out of the question that GM could be trying to move the Corvette towards a similar business model, while continuing to try to keep the Corvette well below the cost of a Ferrari or Lamborghini? We don’t think so. The Corvette has always been considered the “poor-man’s Ferrari” and GM has always tried to make the Corvette as a affordable as possible while offering exotic supercar performance.
Only time will tell, but I think it’s going to be extremely interesting to see what transpires over the course of this year, and whether or not any of our predictions come true! Stay tuned!!!