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Stealing The Show
World-famous Corvette plant gets more automotive excitement with arrival of Cadillac XLR

By Jim Waters, -- 270-783-3269

Editors Carolyn Tolley (left) and Jesse Cecchini, along with producer Oliver Darrow review the latest take Thursday during filming of the Cadillac XLR production at the General Motors Corvette Assembly Plant. Photo by Joe Imel

Talk about star power.

Inside General Motor’s Assembly Plant on a recent afternoon, workers were getting the new XLR – average cost of which will be $70,000 – ready for production. Along for the ride was country music star Aaron Tippin, who was in town taping a segment for a special “Made in America” show.

While Tippin was at the plant to tape a segment about the Corvette, the sleek new XLR Cadillac Luxury Roadster was stealing the show as GM’s next big hit.

While some sightings of the two-seat roadster have been reported – one with a “dealer tag” on it was parked outside the University Plaza Hotel on Sunday – they are not yet being produced for sale, according to plant spokeswoman Michelle Bunker. Target date for production-for-sale cars is the end of May.

Along with being test driven, the new car has been treated like a real made-in-Hollywood product. A film crew spent last week documenting the step-by-step process in the XLR’s production – from individual parts being applied, to the final coat of paint in the body shop.

“We’re doing this in 3-D – just like George Lucas made his last ‘Star Wars’ movie,” said producer Oliver Darrow of O’Brien’s Agency out of Detroit.

The agency was hired by GM’s Cadillac division to put together a top-notch film that will serve as a tool for GM sales associates to become familiar with the new car and for dealers to understand what goes into production. A selective number of sales associates are being invited to spend a couple of days on raceways in Phoenix, Las Vegas and St. Louis to try out the rookie car.

“They are going to experience everything that has to do with the vehicles, including how it compares to competitors so they can understand the vehicle and sell the vehicle,” Darrow said.

He hopes the film will familiarize the company’s salespeople – generally unfamiliar with the ultra-luxury convertible segment – to be as good at selling the car as the experienced workers at the Bowling Green plant have been in manufacturing the automobile.

“My job is to tell the story of this car,” Darrow said. “We’re going all-out to do that.”

GM officials hope the story includes high customer satisfaction and awards in the luxury sports category versus main competitors, which include Jaguar and Mercedes, in competitions like the J.D. Power annual evaluation. The car will have to put it in fifth gear to catch up with the other car made at the plant. The Corvette is competing to be the top car in Power company’s Premium Sports Category for the third-straight year.

While the awards strengthen pride, the 127 new jobs the XLR is creating in Bowling Green are helping shore up the local economy. Bowling Green City Commission voted Dec. 2 to approve a $40 million revenue bond issue to build the car and bring the jobs to the plant. To make room for the new line, the plant added on just 10,000 square feet and are storing parts in an off-site warehouse facility off Louisville Road.

Most of the new jobs of building the XLR have been filled with workers who previously built Corvettes, which has created new positions on the Corvette side.

“They were offered positions based on seniority,” Bunker said. “Many jumped at the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of building a brand new car. It’s the chance of a lifetime, really.”

Jeff Wallace, who used to make Corvettes, said he doesn’t regret his decision to switch to building the new line.

“I’m really excited about this style,” said Wallace, an experienced utility-line worker who moves along the line assisting with different facets of production. “I was at a gas station last week and one of our managers pulled up in an XLR, and people were really wowed by it.”

Ken Lowe, Wallace’s co-worker, said that while he’s always taken pride in his work, being involved in producing a new car is a different experience.

“I’ve never had a chance to be involved in anything like this before,” Lowe said. “It’s a whole new experience and a lot slower pace.”

With much of the car being handcrafted, only three XLRs are being made in an hour – slow compared to other vehicles.

“The XLR is a very unique and low-volume build,” Bunker said. “Only 5,000 per year will be made.”

The pace is much more hectic for Corvettes – 17 are made in an hour – and, in some other facilities, where trucks are turned out as much as a 65-per-hour ratio.

GM officials count on the new XLR becoming worthy of its own Aaron Tippin video some day.

Tippin, whose hits include some songs written by Phillip Douglas, a Bowling Green native and member of Exile, a local band, is traveling the country and narrating segments on American-made products for the Great American Country cable network, a main competitor to Country Music Television. Included in the series will be Kentucky-made products, including Louisville Slugger bats, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and, of course, the Corvette.

“This gives rednecks down in Georgia and Alabama a chance to see how you guys are doing up here in Kentucky,” Tippin said. “This series will be chance for my fans to get out so to speak and see what’s going on and being made in different parts of the country.”

© 2003 Daily News, Bowling Green, KY.
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Jun 26, 2003

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