OPINION: The excitement of building new cars never gets old

We’ve been here several times before since April 28, 1966, when the first Chevrolet Impala rolled off the assembly line at the General Motors complex in Lordstown.

Those Chevys were followed by Pontiac Firebirds, the Chevy Vega and Monza, three generations of Cavaliers and other brands of the J-car, and, since 2005, the Chevrolet Cobalt and, later, the Pontiac G5.

But the new Cruze that GM workers began producing this week brings with it a sense of excitement that exceeds anything since the very earliest days of the plant.

The Cruze is more than a shiny new model for Chevrolet showrooms. It represents GM’s confidence in the ability of the Lordstown plant to produce GM’s first totally new model since the company’s reorganization.

GM has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years in upgrading the Lordstown plant and now it is staking much of its reputation on the ability of the plant and its workers to produce a world-class car for the new company.

A step up

The Cruze is targeted a little higher than its Lordstown predecessor, but will still have an entry-level price of just $16,995. Even the base model will include 10 standard airbags, electronic traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes and a high-tech, high-efficiency drive train.

GM boasts that the 2011 Chevy Cruze already has enough test miles behind it to circle the globe 160 times. The cars being built now are being sent to Detroit for even more tests and quality control. The Cruze will be in showrooms in September.

The Cobalt now takes its place in Lordstown history. It was the car that wasn’t supposed to be built here, Executives in Detroit were ready to pull the plug on Lordstown at the end of the Cavalier run until management and labor cooperated in an unprecedented effort to demonstrate that the plant could produce better cars at a lower cost than it had been doing.

The Cobalt saved the Lordstown plant for the Mahoning Valley. Now the plant, which is running three shifts, has an opportunity to return the favor by helping to spearhead a resurgence of General Motors.

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