GM Suspends Factory Tours of the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky


While it is no secret that Chevrolet has been working on developing the next-generation Corvette since just after the launch of the C7, enthusiasts around the globe are speculating that the C8 Corvette could become a reality in as little as two years.  While Corvette buffs and car aficionados have theorized about the design of the next-generation Corvette, many agree (with varying levels of excitement (ranging from high hope to uncertainty) that the eighth-generation Corvette could very well be the first mid-engine variant of the 64 year old platform.   This possibility has had journalists, enthusiasts and critics alike clamoring for any information that might lend a clue to whats in store for the future Chevy Corvette.

The 2017 Corvette Stingray being assembled at the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
The 2017 Corvette Stingray being assembled at the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

General Motors has helped fuel this debate with a recent announcement that has huge implications for “Amerca’s Sports Car.”  Beginning June 16, 2017, GM’s Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, will suspend all of its factory tours for a period of 18 months.   The last time the Corvette Assembly Plant announced a suspension of its factory tour, it was so that the plant could undergo a $131 million upgrade to prepare it for production of the seventh-generation Corvette Stingray.  That shut-down lasted less than a year.

For Corvette enthusiasts the world over, the Corvette Assembly Plant and the National Corvette Museum (which neighbors the plant a half mile south) have become two of the most popular travel destination spots in the United States.   Owners from across the United States drive their personal Corvettes to the plant annually, and Corvette Clubs frequently make the pilgrimage to Bowling Green to enjoy a weekend at the Museum and the Corvette plant.

So why shut down the factory tours for such a long period of time?

No official answer to that question has been provided to date, but there are many out there who speculate that such a long shut-down could provide General Motors the time it needs to re-tool the plant for the production of a mid-engine variant of the Chevy Corvette.  Another, equally plausible explanation might be simply that GM wants to conceal production changes needed for the new C7 Corvette ZR1.

As part of the manufacturing process, each Corvette is put through a number of rigorous tests - including exposure to high heat and cold, high-pressure water, and a squeek/bump test.
As part of the manufacturing process, each Corvette is put through a number of rigorous tests – including exposure to high heat and cold, high-pressure water (shown here), and a squeek/rattle/bump test.

In an interview with the Bowling Green Daily News, National Corvette Museum Marketing and Communications Manager, Katie Frassinelli, said the plant is “gearing up to go through a series of extensive changes and tours will be halted after June 16th.”  Frassinelli did offer some additional information, stating that “the plant will be reconfigured and equipped with a new paint shop that is integrated into the assembly line.  This should help to streamline production as the current paint shop is on the opposite side of the plant.”

General Motors has not released a statement yet, but the timing of the pause in the factory tours coincides nicely with the rumored launch-timing of the mid-engine C8 Corvette.  Current rumors indicate that the next-generation Corvette would be unveiled at the 2018 North American International Auto Show, with the production model expected to go on sale approximately one year later.  While it is generally agreed that the initial C8 offerings will include the traditional LS/LT V8 engine, many believe that a plug-in hybrid powertrain may also be in the future planning for the Corvette.  Additionally, the switch to a mid-engine platform could cause Chevrolet to eliminate the manual transmission and offer the C8 exclusively with a dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Of course, automotive publications have speculated about the possibility of a mid-engine Corvette since Zora Arkus-Duntov‘s earliest days with Chevrolet.  However, based on the information that has been cobbled together via spy photos taken at test tracks from around the globe, it does appear that General Motors is working on something new.  Could it be that a mid-engine Corvette – a vision that Duntov had for his incredible sports car for nearly half a century – might actually become a reality?  At this point, only time will tell.

One possible conceptual design of what the next-generation, mid-engine C8 Corvette might look like? (Image courtesy of corvette forum.com)

2018 will mark the sixth year of production for the C7 Corvette. Given the history of the car, this is not a long span for a single generation of Corvette, though the shortest production span to date continues to be for the C2 Corvette, which only lasted for five years, 1963-1967.   Still, if production of the C8 Corvette is scheduled to begin in just another 18 months, the C7 will become the shortest production-model of any contemporary Corvette.  However, given that the C7 is really a radical revision to the C6, which in turn was a revision to the C5, which in turn was a revision to the C4, which was introduced in 1984, then it really might be time for Chevrolet to show us what other tricks it has up its sleeve.  One thing is for certain, given the impressive evolution of the Corvette since 1984 – from a well-handling, but power restricted coupe to a true-supercar, the next-generation of Corvette is sure to be the stuff dreams are made of – and isn’t that the point of “America’s Sports Car” in the first place?

For anyone interested in visiting the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green between now and June 16, 2017, please be aware that the plant will be observing the following “black-out” dates as well: May 5, May 8-12, May 19, May 26, May 29, May 30 an June 9, 2017.  And, as stated above, the plant will be closed to the public after June 16, 2017.  We do not have any additional information about when the plant will resume tours, but we will provide any updates as they become available.

 

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