Next spring, General Motors' Powertrain division will start delivering hand-built V-8 engines for the Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
GM has spent $10 million to build a dedicated assembly center for the boutique engines in Wixom, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.
Plant manager Tim Schag, a 26-year GM veteran who is fond of old Corvettes and Cadillacs, spoke to Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
On certain vehicles, such as Ford SVT products, Rolls-Royces and Aston Martins, the person who builds the engine signs it, usually on the valve cover. Will that be done here?
We are talking about that. It's in our future plans. We certainly would anticipate that.
How many engine families can you build here simultaneously?
We are putting in four assembly modules. But that doesn't necessarily mean we are restricted only to four.
We put extreme flexibility into the system to do whatever is needed. There is very little standardized tooling in any of the assembly cells. I can run multiple products, V-6s, V-8s, anything. For example, that V-16 we showed at the Detroit auto show, bring it on.
How many people will you have here building engines?
When we are fully ramped up, we will be in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 people. One builder would build the engine complete. He'll start with a block and take it station to station until it is complete.
How many engines will you build daily?
We'll average about 50.
What's the advantage of having a hand-built engine?
I think there are a couple of advantages.
Number one is the pride of ownership and consumer satisfaction. The customer can tell his friends: "This is hand-built."
The other thing for us at GM is that it gives us extreme flexibility in that we can design engines that might not necessarily be good fits for our high-volume factories. But we'd have the flexibility here to build things like that.
When will production begin?
We start with the Corvette 2006 Z06 next spring.
How will you make money off an operation that is not high-volume and not highly automated?
Through the use of the General Motors manufacturing system we will be a profit center for the corporation. We will not lose money on this operation.
Can this plant do one-offs and experimental engines?
We are going into this and growing the business with production engines. But down the road, if GM's Service Parts Operations has special needs, such as a high-performance crate motor, we could be a potential home for that. Whatever the customer's demand, we can handle it.
I've heard GM Powertrain boss Tom Stephens say that not just anyone can work here. Who is the typical engine builder, and from where is he or she coming?
Everyone who comes here goes through an interview process. He has an engineering basis in that he has built full engines before. I have five team leaders right now that I am training. Just about all of them have engines in their garages at home in hot rods. Not only do they have the technical training in their previous jobs at GM Powertrain, but they are also gearheads by nature. They have a passion for engines.