The Chevrolet Cavalier has consistently been one of the top sellers in General Motors Corp.'s fleet, but the Lordstown-made car had the distinction of outselling all other GM cars in January -- at a time of deep national anxiety about the economy and a possible war with Iraq.
Being No. 1 is a testament to the Lordstown assembly facility's ability to produce a high quality car at a price that appeals to a broad range of consumers. The top ranking is also noteworthy because the Cavalier and the Pontiac Sunfire are being built in a pressure-cooker environment. For many months last year, there was high anxiety in the plant as management and labor awaited word from Detroit as to where GM would build the next generation of the compact cars to replace the Cavalier and the Sunfire.
Lordstown was in the running, but GM executives added to the suspense by publicly acknowledging that they were considering several plants in various states.
And the drumbeat about lowering the per-car production cost and improving quality at Lordstown kept the Mahoning Valley on edge.
But through it all, the plant never let up with the Cavalier and Pontiac.
Job well done
Thus, when GM announced that Lordstown would be getting the new model, it was a reward for a job well done. Indeed, company executives made mention of the fact that the assembly facility met all expectations and that the management-labor climate that now exists was one of the factors that worked to Lordstown's benefit.
Cavalier's sales last month in the United States show that GM made the right decision in tying its small-car future to the Valley.
The sales are all the more impressive when you consider that the 16,992 units sold represented a 10 percent increase over January 2002.
That the Lordstown plant is up to the task of building a high quality car at a time of great uneasiness should reassure GM decision-makers in Detroit.
The challenge now is to find a way of not only building two different cars at the same time, but to do so as major construction takes place inside the facility. While the new car is now a full-size clay model in a Detroit area design studio, plans call for the first test models to start coming off the line in Lordstown in spring of 2004.
And while the test models are being produced, the plant will continue to build Cavaliers and Sunfires.