ORION TWP., MI â€“â€™ Orion Twp., MI, assembly site will join an elite group of plants later this year when it launches the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano small cars.
The vehicles do not share a platform, but they will share a production line thanks to GMâ€™s $145 million investment to retool the 28-year-old factory for greater flexibility.
Orion Twp. had been on a short list of sites targeted for shutdown because of the auto makerâ€™s 2009 bankruptcy. But the United Auto Workers union agreed to a cost-saving 2-tier wage deal that allows GM to pay new hires about $14 an hour, half the current rate.
This boosts GMâ€™s profitability outlook because U.S. small-car production historically has been a low-margin endeavor.
The economical Sonic, formerly called the Aveo and redesigned for â€™11, rides on GMâ€™s Gamma global subcompact platform. The auto makerâ€™s larger Delta global compact-car architecture shoulders the all-new Verano, a small luxury-leaning first for GM in the U.S.
â€śThey run on the exact same line from the beginning of the process in the body shop to paint to general assembly,â€ť Orion Assembly Plant Manager Alicia Boler-Davis tells Wardâ€™s on the floor of the 350-acre (142-ha) facility some 30 miles (48 km) north of Detroit.
â€śAnd we can run them back to back, every other vehicle, if thatâ€™s what we want to do,â€ť she says.
GMâ€™s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant is the auto makerâ€™s only other U.S. site building vehicles underpinned by different platforms on the same line.
At D-Ham, the electrified Chevy Volt compact car, which is based on GMâ€™s Delta II platform, is built alongside the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne large luxury cars.
Next year, the auto maker phases out the DTS and Lucerne and will add production of the next-generation Chevy Malibu, based on GMâ€™s Epsilon global midsize car platform.
Boler-Davis declines to elaborate on key flexibility enablers at Orion, citing competitive reasons. But she points to GMâ€™s lean-materials strategy as one important element.
â€śWe have a real creative lean-materials strategy that weâ€™re implementing here that also allows us to be very flexible and respond to changes very quickly,â€ť she says. â€śItâ€™s a lot of off-line kitting and sequencing and how it is delivered to the line; how it is presented to the team members to make it efficient and eliminate waste.â€ť
Boler-Davis says long hours of up-front planning helped GM adapt its flexible blueprint to Orion.
â€śWhen we established the plant and its processes, we wanted to make sure we had very few restrictions to building what the consumers are expecting from the products,â€ť she says.
Orion previously assembled the Pontiac G5 line of coupes, sedans and convertibles, but lost those products with the wind down of the brand in 2010. It also served as a supplemental source of Malibu output.
In 2008, the plant set an industry record with 10 million continuous man hours performed without a lost work day.