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GM invests in next Corvette

Super coupe: Chevrolet will continue to build the current Corvette for at least the next two model years, seen here in Z06 Centennial Edition guise.

Cashed-up GM reveals plans for its radical new Corvette and eight-speed auto

Chevrolet logo16 May 2011

By MARTON PETTENDY

GENERAL Motors has revealed it will soon begin preparations to build Chevrolet’s next-generation C7 Corvette super-coupe and an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission for a range of future models.

The news was announced on May 10 – just days after it posted a $US3.2 billion ($A3b) first quarter net profit on top of its first full year in the black since 2004 – as the US auto giant revealed it will invest $US2 billion ($A1.9b) in plant and equipment in North America.

GM also confirmed it will continue to produce the current Corvette for at least two more model years, corroborating recent US reports that the replacement for GM’s all-American sportscar icon will appear in 2013, when it could become the first mid-engined Corvette.

“Plant improvements and installation of new equipment to make the next-generation Chevrolet Corvette will begin soon while the current-generation Corvette is assembled for at least the next two model years,” said GM.

Some Chev web bloggers went wild with speculation the next Corvette will ditch its traditional front-engine configuration in favour of a more exotic mid-engine layout after a top GM executive promised the existing model’s successor will be something “completely different”.

137 center imageGM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson with the Volt plug-in, Chevrolet Camaro, map of photovoltaic solar array facility in Detroit-Hamtrack.

All official details of the new Corvette remain under tight wraps, but GM North America president and former GM Holden boss Mark Reuss has said it will be a genuine competitor in the high-end sportscar market, presumably including the finest supercars from Porsche and Ferrari.

It has even been suggested the 2013 Corvette – which is likely to continue to be a left-hand-drive-only model positioned above Chevrolet’s Australian-designed LHD-only Camaro coupe – could come with a split rear window, a design element not seen since the 1963 model.

GM’s fresh cash injection will also result in the retention of about 250 jobs at Toledo to produce “an all-new, advanced eight-speed automatic transmission for future vehicles that offer customers improved fuel economy and outstanding performance”.

Announcing the investment at the 54-year-old Toledo transmission plant last Tuesday, GM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said his company’s latest investment – including $US204 million for Toledo – would create or preserve more than 4000 jobs at 17 GM facilities in eight US states.

“We are doing this because we are confident about demand for our vehicles and the economy,” said Mr Akerson.

“This new investment is on top of $3.4 billion and more than 9000 jobs that GM has added or saved since mid-2009.”

GM emerged from bankruptcy reorganisation in July 2009 and last week reported its fifth consecutive profitable quarter.

Its global vehicle sales lifted 11 per cent to 2.2 million during January-March, putting it on track to top nine million vehicles and almost certainly reclaim the number one title it lost two years ago to Toyota, which has been quake-affected this year.

North America’s biggest auto-maker ended the quarter with $36.5 billion in cash, compared with $27.6 billion at the end of the fourth quarter of 2010.

Just as significantly, however, GM’s North American factories ran at 99.1 per cent capacity during the quarter, up from 85.1 per cent.

The first in the new round of GM investments was announced last week, when the company said it would spend $131 million to add about 250 jobs at its Bowling Green plant in Kentucky.

“The UAW’s goal has been to return all laid-off workers to active status and see the company begin hiring again,” said Joe Ashton, the vice-president of the United Auto Workers union’s GM Department.

“These announcements will create and retain thousands of jobs and bring General Motors back to full employment of our hourly workforce.

“If the market continues to recover, we are confident that GM will hire new workers to meet the strong demand for the products our UAW members build.”

GM said other specific facility investment announcements will be made in coming months, “dependent on successful completion of state and local incentives in some communities”.

The following day, GM announced it will join with DT Energy to install the largest photovoltaic solar array in south-east Michigan at the Detroit-Hamtrack factory that produces Chevrolet’s Volt plug-in hybrid, which is slated for release in Australia next year.

GM said the 516kW project will generate electricity capable of charging 150 Volt vehicles every day for a year, saving the facility about $15,000 a year in power bills over the life of the 20-year easement agreement.

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