In our December 2014 issue of Vette we introduced you to Corvette’s new plant manager Jeff Lamarsche. Jeff took over for the previous Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant Manager Dave Tatman on March 1, 2014 after Dave’s retirement. Eighteen months later Jeff was promoted to manage a GM truck assembly plant in Michigan and Kai Spande replaces him. During the 21st National Corvette Museum Anniversary celebration, Team Vette interviewed Kai at the Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant. Kai was born in California, but grew up in Iowa. He joined GM in 1991 after graduating from Northern Iowa University with an Industrial Technology degree. He began his career in Saginaw, Michigan as a tooling engineer and went on to hold positions in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Japan and Germany. He supports the concept of lean manufacturing, team involvement and process discipline. He was actively involved in the development of the current Gen V (LT1) engine. Before coming to Corvette, Kai was Director of European Powertrain Test Facilities for GM/OPEL in Rüsselsheim am Main, Germany. His responsibilities included preproduction testing of gasoline/diesel engines and drivetrains. Kai told Team Vette, “I am a born and raised American and I am grateful to be working on Corvette.” Here are a few questions we asked Kai to help give you some insight into our new Corvette Plant Manager’s background.
VETTE: What GM brands have you worked with in the past?
Kai Spande (KS): I have worked exclusively within our Powertrain organizations up to this point. This includes manufacturing, manufacturing engineering and an assignment in Japan where I worked with a large machine tool company on a fellowship studying their manufacturing practices.
VETTE: What were your duties in Germany?
KS: I worked for the last two years at OPEL headquarters in Rüsselsheim, Germany in product engineering for powertrain. I was focused on the operational side and responsible for all engine and transmission dyno testing. This also included the assembly of the new prototype Alpha, Beta and Gama engines for both gas and diesel. Our diesel operations are located in Torino, Italy. Our testing was designed to ensure that durability for the engines and transmission was where it was supposed to be and that was my responsibility. The emission regulations are three times more stringent than the US. A lot of the high-tech products you now see coming here were born in Europe. This includes start/stop and boosted diesel engines with one or two turbochargers. Our European operation has a total of 2,800 employees and I was responsible for 1,000 of them. My three-year assignment was cut short to come to Bowling Green.
VETTE: Driving in Germany is very different than here is the US. Can you describe those differences?
KS: This is kind of the irony of becoming part of Corvette. Every day I was driving my Opel Insignia (Buick Lacrosse) to and from work with a two-liter twin-turbo diesel. It had 195 hp and I would cruise at 130 mph with it on the Autobahn. Now coming to the US you have a car that you can have fun with 3 seconds at a time. The driving experience on our interstates is kin to the wild, wild, west and is frankly quite terrifying. For a lot of reasons drivers in Germany are extremely disciplined and it is for your own safety. You could be driving at 100 kph (62 mph) and someone passes you at 250 kph (155 mph). You better be aware of what is in front and behind you at all times. They have among the lowest fatality rates in the world. Congestion is greater than here in the US, but much more disciplined. There is a reason that the German automakers never had cup holders in their vehicles. Their favorite quote was, “A vehicle is designed to be driven, not have lunch in.” That is true on the Autobahn as well as side roads. There are pedestrians that are inches from your vehicle and they know where they are supposed to be and you are responsible for knowing where they are.
VETTE: Have you driven a C7 Corvette in Germany?
KS: No, in fact I left before the C7 was released for sale in Germany. That is an experience that I am looking forward to. However, I have been in a lot of other Corvettes while I lived in Germany.
VETTE: Have you owned any Corvettes?
KS: My first Corvette was a 1978 Silver Anniversary that I bought used after joining GM. I personally restored a 1965 big-block convertible and a numbers-matching Le Mans Blue 1969 L71, 435 HP, coupe. I also had a 1999 Corvette company car, which I bought. I ended up selling them when my family started growing. The only thing I tinker with now is my 1937 Chevy pickup truck. It is a street rod with a Chevy small-block, 700R4 transmission, Ford 9-inch rear, four-link suspension and power rack and pinion steering. It has an aftermarket chassis underneath to tie it all together.
VETTE: It sounds like your experience has been in drivetrain not body production?
KS: Yes, my history has all been in powertrain. In this facility Nora Roper, the Assistant Plant Manager and others on the Bowling Green staff have worked with me at other facilities. The ability to move and be successful is related to the systems and processes we have in place. Vehicle production is different than powertrain, but we have so many production processes in common that we do not think this difference is a problem.
After spending time interviewing Kai, we feel he is a good fit to make sure Corvette continues to be the best sports car in the world. He has been charged with completing the new $400 million plus paint facility that will open in 2017. It will be a state of the art operation that Kai believes will make a huge improvement in Corvette’s paint quality. And what could be better, he loves Corvettes! We welcome Kai and his family to the Corvette community.