GM marks 500M production milestone, invests at Fairfax

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. Monday announced a $174 million investment to its Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan., where GM CEO Mary Barra gathered with customers, employees and dealers to celebrate the automaker surpassing 500 million vehicles produced globally — the most by any automaker.

The carmaker said it wants to give back to customers who helped it reach that half billion milestone since its founding in 1908; it reached 100 million vehicles in 1964 and 400 million in 2003. Barra announced that U.S. salaried and hourly employees and retirees — a group totaling nearly 600,000 — can share a customer appreciation discount with a family member or friend during the third week of May.

The discount is similar to a supplier discount and could amount to more than $1,000 depending on the make and model of the automobile.

Barra and GM North America President Alan Batey met with employees, customers and dealers at the Fairfax plant, which is receiving a portion of $5.4 billion in U.S. plant investments over three years that GM announced last week. Fairfax will receive new equipment and technology for the next-generation 2016 Chevrolet Malibu which goes into production later this year. GM said the investment retains 2,500 jobs.

During Monday's event they surprised Iraqi war veteran Trent Brining of Overland Park, Kansas, with a "key" to a 2016 Malibu. Brining, a retired Army corporal who has had 23 surgeries since being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2005 in Iraq, is one of five GM customers to be given a new GM vehicle.

"During 2015, we expect to sell more than 1,000 new vehicles per hour, 24 hours a day," Barra said in a statement. "This adds up to nearly 10 million vehicles, the most in our history. I look at this extraordinary volume as 10 million opportunities to prove what kind of company we are and to say thank you."

GM shared some global customer milestones at the Fairfax plant that it will use on brand social channels. They included a retiree in Minnesota who still drives his 1957 Chevrolet pickup that he bought 38 years ago for $75 and a Chevrolet Captiva club member in Thailand who proposed to his wife using a fleet of Captiva vehicles.

The company also has ongoing customer appreciation efforts. Free auto show tickets were given to customers and on April 1 during the Chevrolet "Best Day Ever" campaign, the bowtie brand surprised more than 12,000 people in the U.S. with everything from free gas to free concerts. The automaker also is encouraging employees to personalize notes when thanking customers.

Last Thursday, GM outlined $783.5 million in investments at three Michigan plants, including $124 million at Pontiac Metal Center for a new press, $520 million at Lansing Delta Township Assembly for future vehicles and $139.5 million for a new body shop and stamping plant improvements at Warren Pre-Production Operations. About $1.3 billion in investment likely is headed for GM's Arlington Assembly Plant in Texas, where GM last week received tax abatement approval from the city.

GM has said it will announce the remaining investments of more than $4 billion at multiple plants, including more Michigan sites, in the coming months. The total investment is expected to create 650 new jobs.

Part of the investment at Fairfax is aimed to improve satisfaction among customers, GM said. The company is adding a "Shake and Rattle" road condition simulator that can help identify sources of noise and fix problems.

Workers at Fairfax build the Malibu and Buick LaCrosse on three shifts. The plant employs 3,500 people including 3,230 hourly workers.

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Some GM Innovation Milestones

1912: First electric self-starter

1915: First tilt-beam headlights and first V-8 engine

1924: First auto industry proving ground

1934: First rollover test conducted

1940: First automatic transmission

1962: First turbocharged engine

1971: First automaker to offer vehicle running on unleaded gasoline

1974: First airbags in production vehicle

Source: General Motors Co.