On March 1, 2014, Jeff Lamarche was named the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant's manager. Jeff replaces Dave Tatman who retired on the same day after 34 years of service. A California native, Lamarche joined General Motors in 1981. He is the son of a UAW autoworker. He holds a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration. Jeff's previous manufacturing assignments have been in Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Marion (Indiana), GM De Mexico, Linden (N.J.), Fairfax (Kansas), Global Quality Staff, San Luis Potosi (Mexico), and Brownstown (Michigan). He is committed to improving quality while implementing lean manufacturing principles. His goal is to inspire employees to be the best. Team VETTE met with Jeff at the assembly plant for our interview. Then Jeff and Andrea Hales (Corvette Plant Communications Manager) escorted us to the assembly line to watch Jeff inspect C7s during the build process. Here is what we learned about him during our interview.
Vette: We noticed you haven't spent a lot of time with Corvettes?
JL: That is correct, I have been a manufacturing guy for most of my career. This is the first time I have crossed paths with Corvette manufacturing.
Vette: Is the C7 manufacturing process different than previous models you worked with?
JL: Absolutely. Having a panel off process is unique within GM. Instead of body on frame or body integrated into the frame, the Corvette assembly method is very different. This car has a rolling chassis with composite tubs with panels that require assembly. This car also requires extensive use of adhesives during production. This build method is unique.
Vette: Does the C7 have any new technology that was not used before?
JL: Yes. Corvette uses new methods to join aluminum together. GM developed a spot-welding process to join aluminum instead of pop rivets. In the past, pop rivets were the attachment method of choice when joining aluminum. We also use screws that tap their own holes and make their own threads. We use these to secure panels together while the adhesives are setting.
Vette: Every new model has production issues. Do any come to mind during the launch of the C7?
JL: We have had a few. We review the warranty claims and like any new launch we have to make assembly adjustments and design tweaks. One issue that comes to mind is our customers thought the lighting level in the IP (Instrument Panel) was too dim. So we had to make software changes to brighten it up. Since we made the change the warranty claims on that issue have disappeared.
Vette: What version (base, Z51, or convertible) has the highest production?
JL: Coupe to convertibles are 2 to 1. As of April 3, we have built 10,168 coupes equipped with the Z51 performance package, which represents 42 percent of our total production. We also have built 3,129 convertibles (13 percent) with Z51. So our total Z51 production is 55 percent. The standard Stingray coupe is next with 7,920 sold, or 32 percent of our total production. The Z51 option is hot and it is difficult to keep up with demand.
Vette: How many manuals vs. automatics have been produced?
JL: Manual transmissions account for 35 percent of our production. We are curious what impact the new eight-speed automatic will have on this number in 2015. It really looks like a strong package.
Vette: How many are built per day and on how many shifts?
JL: We are building 165 cars per day on one shift with overtime. As of April 3, we have built 24,497 C7 Corvettes. On a straight time basis without overtime we can build 137 units per day.
Vette: Do you foresee two shifts?
JL: No. Not at this time.
JL: The line speed of the C7 is much higher than where we ended with the C6. Right now we are building 17 plus per hour and the C6 was 8 per hour.
Vette: Does the convertible create any new issues during the build process?
JL: Some. For example, water leaks require more time to assure they are leak free. We also spend more line time on the fit of the convertible cover. Electrically, the convertible is well integrated into the overall systems. Convertible production has come a long way since the chop shop production methods used in the past. Now it's seamless.
Vette: Will there be a price increase for the 2015 models?
JL: We really do not know. The plant doesn't get involved with pricing.
Vette: Your plant will build many versions of the 2015 C7. What challenges does that present for your part supply, delivery, and plant staffing?
JL: There will be a small addition to staffing. The biggest complexity will be the increase in part numbers that will be going into the different versions. We will have an entire new front end, for example, that will have to be assembled. We also have to add new components that will slightly increase the build complexity.
Vette: Your plant is offering tours. What are the tour hours, and is there a charge?
JL: We are offering three tours per day (8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1 p.m.). Each costs $7 per person and closed-toe shoes are required for safety. The museum also offers a wide variety of private tours, and the most popular are the buyer's tours. This is where a buyer spends two days with us while their car is being assembled. It is separate from the museum delivery. For me it's pretty cool, because new owners have huge smiles on their faces watching their baby being born.
Vette: Your previous manufacturing experience has been with trucks and passenger cars. I am sure those customers were not as passionate over watching their trucks or sedans being built. This has to be a little different for you?
JL: It is a lot different and is requiring a lot of adjustment for me. In the short time I have been in this position I have done more interviews than I have during my entire 32-year career. It is very different but exciting to have direct contact with the Corvette customer. I get letters every day, some good and some not so good. Anyone that has the museum logo on their letterhead is a passionate customer! I do have a personal experience about my new job. My son goes to a university in Kansas City and we were talking about the recent Bash on the phone and he said “Dad, can you send me some of your business cards?” He never asked me that question before!
Vette: Have you ever owned a Corvette?
JL: Sort of. When I left Mexico in 2012 to manage the Volt battery plant in Michigan I had my first Corvette experience. The person I replaced had just ordered a yellow Grand Sport convertible company car. She was depressed that she would not get that car. I needed a company car so I asked if I could have her order and was told yes. It became our spring/summer car and my wife and I were hooked. That car hooked me when other Corvette people actually waved! That stopped when I got my next company car. I really miss the wave! Now my wife and I are deciding if we want a '59 straight axle or a new C7.
Vette: You began working at GM in 1981 as a Co-Op. What was your first assignment and what were your duties?
JL: Early on I did maintenance and engineering. That was followed up with jobs in quality. I have been involved in quality a lot. I have had quality assignments in car plants, stamping plants, transmission plants, and batteries.
Vette: What challenges are you presently facing in your new assignment?
JL: Besides keeping up with the volume, it's driving home the importance of quality.
Vette: Is quality not where it needs to be?
JL: It's good, but from my experience there are ways to make it better, and that is my mission.
Vette: The National Corvette Museum plays a large role in promoting the Corvette brand. Will you make any changes to how the plant supports the museum?
JL: No. I respect the relationship the plant and the museum have and definitely will continue to support that effort. The museum delivery is a very innovative program and is popular with customers and the corporation. Recently, Honda visited us to study the museum delivery process. They are introducing their new NSX sports car and want to duplicate our delivery method for their new car.
Vette: Jeff, thanks for taking time to speak with us and we wish you the best of luck in your new assignment.
JL: Thanks, and I am sure we will speak again.