GM to invest $131 million at Kentucky Corvette plant

DETROIT Wed May 4, 2011 5:37pm EDT

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co (GM.N) will revamp a Kentucky factory to produce a new version of the iconic Chevrolet Corvette sports car that will look "completely different" from the current version, the automaker said on Wednesday.

"It has a completely different look. Don't ask me how or what, but people will be really surprised, in a good way," said Mark Reuss, GM's North American president.

The current, sixth-generation -- or C6 line -- of Corvettes are sleek, low-to-the-ground, wide-body models. Reuss declined to say how the next generation, which will debut within a few years, will differ.

GM would not say when the new Corvette would be introduced, but automotive blogs have speculated that it will make its debut in 2013.

Reuss in a telephone interview said he was riding in a Corvette ZR1 after announcing at the Bowling Green, Kentucky plant that GM will invest $131 million to retool for the new, seventh generation of the Corvette. The ZR-1 is the high-end performance Corvette model with 638-horsepower.

Reuss told the plant's nearly 400 production line workers that GM has invested $3.4 billion and created 9,000 jobs at its U.S. plants since mid-2009, the year it went through a $52 billion U.S. government-sponsored bankruptcy.

The first Corvette was introduced in 1953 as an answer to a wave of imported European sports cars and styled by the legendary GM designer Harley Earl.

GM said the current-generation Corvette, introduced in 2004, will be made in Kentucky for at least the next two model years.

CORVETTE SALES RISING

GM sold 4,293 Corvettes in the United States this year through April, up 22 percent from 2010's first four months.

Sales of the Corvette were more than 40,500 in 2007, but plunged during the 2008-2009 recession and into 2010. Last year, only 12,624 were sold in the United States, by far the biggest market for the muscle car.

There are six variations of the 2011 Corvette, with a price range of $49,000 for the basic model Coupe, to $111,000 for the top-line ZR1.

The Corvette plant operates on a 10-hour, four-day shift.

GM spokesman Jason Laird said some of the new jobs will be filled by laid-off workers, but most of the 250 positions will be taken by new hires. It was too early, he said, to say how many or if any of the new hires will be at the so-called "second-tier" wage that is about half that of veteran union-represented auto workers.

The state of Kentucky has approved $7.5 million in tax incentives for GM to invest in the Bowling Green plant.

In a statement issued by GM, Joe Ashton, United Auto Workers vice president for GM relations, reaffirmed the UAW's goal of rebuilding the "great American middle class." That starts, he said, by making quality cars.

The UAW and major U.S. automakers face negotiations on a new contract this summer. The UAW has signaled that it wants to share in gains of the automakers which are in a much better financial position than in 2007 when the last contract was signed.

The Bowling Green plant has made the Corvette since 1981.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Richard Chang and Robert MacMillan)

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