General Motors confirms plans to invest $600 million at its Fairfax, KS, assembly plant, the first of an expected $1.5 billion in outlays earmarked for North America over the coming year to produce a slew of new and redesigned cars and trucks.

GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson makes the announcement today at the 68-year-old facility, which will get upgrades to its assembly line, plus a new paint shop and stamping press.

GM calls the outlay one of its largest plant investments ever, raising its pledges to Fairfax over the last decade to $2 billion. It most recently received a $20 million investment in 2011 to accommodate production of the Buick LaCrosse mild-hybrid sedan.

The auto maker says construction at the 3.2-million-sq.-ft. (297,290-sq.-m) plant will begin later this year and will take about two years to complete. It will increase the footprint of the plant by about 15% to 3.7 million sq.-ft. (343,740 sq.-m).

The work will not affect Fairfax’s 3-shift output and all 4,000 workers at the facility will remain on the job during the project.

A major element of the upgrade will be the all-new paint shop, GM says. It includes new tooling, robots and state-of-the art technology meant to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

For example, the new paint shop will occupy 20% less space and use 50% less energy per vehicle. GM also expects fewer volatile-organic-compound emissions. Drying ovens, developed in-house, will use 20% less natural gas and 40% less electricity, the auto maker says.

Water use also will decline, and the integrity of the paint will strengthen.

On the stamping side, a new AA3X press will go into use, and GM says it will enhance quality of vehicle frames and reduce waste as a result of greater punching accuracy.

In addition to the LaCrosse, Fairfax also produces the Chevrolet Malibu 5-passenger sedan. According to a WardsAuto/Automotive Compass forecast, it will take over exclusive production of the Malibu in 2015.

In 2016, LaCrosse production will move to GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck facility, at which time Fairfax will become sole producer of the Malibu, according to the forecast.

Last year, Fairfax produced 277,454 units, WardsAuto data shows. It has the capacity to build 335,000 vehicles annually, based on a 3-shift work schedule.

The investment at Fairfax represents a key milestone in GM’s turnaround from its 2009 bankruptcy. While the auto maker has invested $10.2 billion in manufacturing operations since then, creating or retaining more than 26,500 jobs, the coming round of investments will help unclog a pipeline of new and redesigned vehicles meant to solidify its comeback.

“It’s been an interesting couple of years since bankruptcy,” Akerson told journalists at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “We had to hold the line while we kind of recharged our products, and what I think you are seeing is the emergence of a new day in (GM) product.”

The holdup in new vehicles contributed to GM finishing 2012 with a lowest-ever U.S. market share of 17.9%.

Over the next 12-16 months, the auto maker will turn over roughly 70% of its product portfolio, moving the auto maker’s lineup of cars and trucks from the industry’s oldest to its newest.

“By the middle of next year, we will have the freshest showrooms in the business,” GM North America President Mark Reuss says in a speech at the Detroit show.

Reuss says the auto maker also continues to invest in products further down the line, putting roughly $8 billion annually into research and development of new cars, trucks and cross/utility vehicles.

jamend@wardsauto.com