When Paul Smith is pumping gas into his car and sees a Malibu there, too, he sometimes strikes up a conversation with the driver.
For the last seven years, Smith has worked at the General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan. In a small way, Smith, who currently works in the body shop, might have played a small role in building that Malibu.
“That is part of the pride,” Smith said, “seeing the customers out there.”
More than 3,500 employees spread out over three shifts at the Fairfax plant all play a role in building the Chevrolet Malibu and the Buick LaCrosse.
“I love the interaction,” said Katie Wheeler, who works in industrial engineering at Fairfax. “I love the people I work around. It is neat to see the end result. How many people can say when you see a car drive by, that ‘I saw somebody build it. I was involved in that.’”
Excitement at the Fairfax Assembly Plant rose to another level May 4 when GM CEO Mary Barra and GM North America and Global Chevrolet President Alan Batey visited the plant, and surprised Iraqi war veteran Trent Brining of Overland Park with the key to a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu.
In addition, they announced $174 million in investment in the Fairfax Assembly Plant to help build the 2016 Malibu, which will hit dealerships in November.
“I really think this one is a game-changer,” Smith said.
New equipment is being installed now at Fairfax to build the redesigned Malibu.
An Edmonds.com review stated that the 2016 Malibu will be two inches longer overall than the current model, and will have a wheelbase that is nearly 4 inches longer, which yields more interior room. The new car is also nearly 300 pounds lighter, which should help fuel economy.
The base 2016 Malibu will come with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and will pair with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Over the next few months, factory workers at the Fairfax Assembly Plant are working with the launch team to make sure the redesigned Malibu is built correctly.
“They are getting hands-on experience, building the cars, learning the process,” Smith said. “They are getting their input to improve the process as we mature into the build.”
Workers are becoming familiar with the parts, how they are installed, what works, what doesn’t work and how to fix it.
“There is a pride of being an auto worker,” Smith said. “Doing as many jobs as I have, whether it is a small screw that I put on a door pad all the way up to putting a wheel on the car or installing a motor, there is just a lot of pride in building cars. That is what we do; we build cars.”
When Smith, Wheeler and all the other workers heard about the commitment by General Motors to invest millions into Fairfax, it meant a lot to them.
“It is not only exciting for employees here, it puts confidence that we are not going anywhere,” Wheeler said. “There is always the fear because employees here have seen it before, but with additional investments and continuation, it is positive.”
The investment, Smith said, gives peace of mind.
“It allows the workers to stay focused on the job at hand,” he said. “That does take off some of the economic stress some people feel when we have to worry about what is coming down the road.
“I realized it is good to be an autoworker these days. The news just keeps getting better with new investments in the plant, with employment growth throughout the company, not to mention all these great products we are coming out with.”
For many, like Smith and Wheeler, General Motors is a family business. Smith has worked for General Motors for 34 years. Before coming to the Fairfax Assembly Plant, he worked in Wilmington, Del. His father retired from General Motors after 35 years. He has a brother who has worked for General Motors for 33 years.
Wheeler, who is in her third year at Fairfax, is following her dad, who worked there for more than 15 years.
“It is very common,” Wheeler said of the family connections at GM.
General Motors is anticipating a very successful year overall for 2015.
“During 2015, we expect to sell more than 1,000 new vehicles per hour, 24 hours per day,” Barra said recently in a press release. “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.”
For workers at the Fairfax Assembly Plant, the Malibu is a major source of pride.
“The Malibu has been a staple kind of car for years for General Motors,” Smith said. “Over the years, it has taken many awards for quality, style. It is a good car. If you look out on the road, you see them all over the place.
“Some of the best feelings come when you get an opportunity to work in the part of the plant and you get to drive the new vehicle out of the gate and take it out to the parking lot. You see how everything has come together from the very first part of the body shop to the last part, pumping of the gas on the assembly line.”