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Last C6 Corvette rolls off the line

Fri, 01 Mar 2013

All the Chevrolet Corvette talk these days is focused on the 2014 Stingray, the seventh-generation car that arrives this fall. But the C6 era only ended Feb. 28 as the last car rolled off the assembly line in Bowling Green, Ky.

That car, a 2013 Corvette 427 convertible with a 7.0-liter V8 built by chief engineer Tadge Juechter, is headed for preservation at General Motors' Heritage Collection in suburban Detroit. It was car No. 13,466 for the 2013 model year.

Plant manager Dave Tatman and the 500 employees gathered for a short ceremony to mark the end of the era, which happened a bit past 8 a.m. Central time. But within half an hour workers started dismantling the general assembly line to get the plant retooled for the Stingray.

The same thing happened Feb. 20 when the frame for the last C6 was built -- demolition of the line started five minutes after the frame was finished, Tatman says.

"There's been a great deal of anticipation as we get ready to build the Stingray," Tatman says. "But it's been pretty much all business here. We added in the 427 convertible and the 60th anniversary edition, and built more cars this year than in the past few years and did it in a model year that was three months shorter. We've been on overtime this entire model year."

Chevy dealers will still be selling the current Corvette for several months, as the Stingray isn't due in showrooms until late August or early September. The Stingray convertible debuts March 5 at the Geneva motor show and should be in showrooms by December.

On Feb. 1, Chevy had 6,100 Corvettes in inventory, according to the Automotive News Data Center. At the current sales rate, that's enough Corvettes to last for about 5 1/2 months.

In the nine-year run for the sixth-generation Corvette (2005-2013 model years) the Bowling Green plant built 215,100 copies of the two-seater. The last Corvette Z06 off the line carries an engine built by Tatman. It will be raffled off by the National Corvette Museum in late May. You can see a list of Corvettes being raffled by the museum here.

The $131-million overhaul of the Bowling Green plant has been under way for nearly a year. The new body shop that will weld up the aluminum frame for the Corvette Stingray is finished and operational.

The Stingray auto show cars and many of the prototypes were built in Bowling Green -- which helps explain why the 1-million-square-foot plant suspended its popular public tours in September.

Plant tours will restart later this year, Tatman says, but not until the assembly line is running smoothly.

Tatman, who became the plant manager in August 2010, says the changeover schedule for the Corvette Stingray is tight. "It's a matter of a few weeks, not months."

With production of the C6 finished, many of the plant's workers will go on a temporary three-week layoff. Then they'll be back to learn how build the Stingray. Teams of UAW workers from the plant have been making trips to Detroit for two years to prepare for the new car.

The plant plans to add 150 workers this year and 150 workers next year to build the Stingray, boosting the number of employees to around 800. In addition, the plant will hire a large number of temporary workers for up to 18 months to get the car launched.

Bowling Green has been building Corvettes at the rate of eight cars per hour. Tatman expects a faster line rate once the Stingray is launched but declined to give a number.

"No job in this plant is going to be the same, including mine," Tatman says.

In addition to new assembly operations, such as installing the Stingray's rear quarter windows, the Bowling Green plant is the new home for GM's Performance Build Center. The center, now in Wixom, Mich., let Corvette buyers pay $5,000 to build the high-performance engine for the Z06 and ZR1 models.

Chevy has not said there will be a Z06 or ZR1 version of the Corvette Stingray -- but the relocation of the Performance Build Center to Bowling Green is a strong hint that a higher-performance car is in the future plan.

Tatman says he wants to put the build center in an area of the plant formerly occupied by the old body shop, near the engine test cells. "My vision is that a Corvette buyer can come and build his engine one day and watch it go into his car the next day."

By Dale Jewett