General Motors has announced plans to reopen some of its manufacturing operations May 18, but the Bowling Green Assembly Plant won’t reopen until May 26 and will to so slowly, according to a GM spokesman.
Closed for the past two months because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the Corvette plant will begin what is being called a “cadenced restart” May 26. That’s the term used by Trevor Thompkins, communications coordinator for GM’s North American Manufacturing and Labor.
“The focus for employees returning to work will be on our new safety protocols as a result of COVID-19 (the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus),” Thompkins said in an email. “We will conduct detailed safety orientation sessions to ensure everyone understands GM’s safety system and can ask questions.”
The gradual return to full production was confirmed in a statement from GM CEO Mary Barra. In a conference call with analysts last week, Barra said the restart at GM plants will start with one shift and then build to two or three shifts depending on demand.
Demand for the 2020 Corvette was expected to be high as GM unveiled a revolutionary mid-engine design, added a second shift at the plant and boosted employment from about 900 to around 1,400.
The March 20 shutdown came shortly after the first of the mid-engine Corvettes rolled off the assembly line. The plant was restarted after last fall’s 40-day-long strike by the United Auto Workers ended in October with the signing of a new four-year contract.
With the new Corvette winning the North American Car of the Year award and other honors for its design and performance, GM was looking for a big year from its signature sports car.
Now, one industry analyst said, the outlook isn’t nearly as bright.
“The COVID-19 outbreak is having a devastating effect on every automaker around the globe, including General Motors and every vehicle it produces,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Atlanta-based Cox Automotive. “The launch of the Corvette was to have been an exciting time.”
Any excitement generated by the mid-engine Corvette is now tempered by safety concerns, according to UAW Local 2164 President Jack Bowers.
“We all have concerns,” Bowers said in a text message. “I don’t think anything is worth risking your life for.”
Bowers said “some are and some aren’t” when asked if the plant’s hourly workers are anxious to get back to work after the prolonged shutdown.
“I understand the need to make money, so workers are kind of in the middle of the road (about resuming production),” Bowers said.
It has been a difficult few months for the Corvette plant’s workers. Last fall, they subsisted mostly on the $275 per week they received from the union’s strike fund. The COVID-19 shutdown forced most of them to file for unemployment benefits this year.
Likewise, GM and other automakers have been sickened financially by the disease outbreak. Now, as the company implements social distancing, temperature checks and sanitizing in a gradual reboot, a quick rebound is unlikely, according to Cox Automotive’s Krebs.
“The big question when this is over,” he said, “is will people still want to buy the Corvette? GM has some orders in hand, but we do anticipate sports cars – very discretionary purchases – will take time to gain some traction.”
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