Besides the engine and transmission, the drivetrain assembly includes front- and rear-suspension components. Once together, the assembly travels on a self-guided robot to the point where the drivetrain is raised for installation to the chassis.
For the next few pages, forget about all that talk about the fate of the Camaro. The rumors have swirled for the past few years, but this story isn't about the death of the Camaro; it's about the car's creation.
Since the debut of the Fourth-Generation F-car platform in 1992 as a '93 model, General Motors Ste. Therese, Quebec, has been the sole assembly plant for the Camaro (and its F-car cousin, the Pontiac Firebird). The plant first began building Chevys in 1965. They were Biscaynes at the time, but the plant has adjusted from full-size to compacts when needed-in the '70s, they built Monzas.
With the F-car the plant is running at between 30 and 40 percent capacity. But while the plant is under-utilized at the moment, the Camaro is currently one of GM's more profitable vehicles. Except for the '98 "mid-cycle enhancement," which gave the Camaro a new nose and an LS1 engine, the platform has remained largely unchanged. This has kept overall investment costs, such as new tooling, to a minimum, enhancing profitability.
And there was some hefty investment when the car started its run down the 8.4 miles of Ste. Therese's conveyor lines, as the Camaro is not the easiest car to build. For example, there are seven substrates of the car that go through the paint shop, and only one of them is steel. The rest, which comprise the front fenders, doors, hatch, roof cover, and front and rear fascias, are made from different types of plastic composites.
After just a couple of minutes in the plant, we were struck by the brightness and cleanliness of the assembly line floor. Each station has brilliant lighting, and that lighting reflects off a polished concrete floor. We didn't see so much as a scrap of paper on the ground, either. At each work station along the assembly line containers full of components were stacked up neatly and within easy reach.
Ste. Therese utilizes a "just in time" materials delivery system, which means the plant and work stations stock only enough parts for several hours' work. Suppliers make deliveries to the plant as the components are needed and many components are larger sub-assemblies. Take the instrument panel, for example. Rather than stock the thousands of tiny parts and assemble the panels in-house, a supplier delivers complete instrument panels to be installed as a single part.
The plant's planning administrator, Barry Oakley, is proud of Ste. Therese's efficiencies. "It's a precise system that ensures better quality cars," he says. "We have a paperless schedule system, too, that makes it almost impossible for a car to be built with incorrect components or options."
A Camaro begins to take shape when the bodyside panels are joined to the floorpan. At this station, workers also install the roof panel. Whether a T-top or a hardtop, the cars get the same T-style roof panel. A hardtop car simply has a full-length support around the door opening on the bodyside panel. Note the extra metal in the door opening in this photo. It reinforces the side panel until it's welded to the floorpan. It gets trimmed off at the next station on the line.