Chevrolet Corvette Assembly Plant Manager Interview - Personality Profile: Wil Cooksey

Team VETTE Talks With The Corvette Assembly Plant Manager

Bob Wallace Dec 1, 2000 0 Comment(s)

So I decided to start a project. Lamar Walden built the engine. The chassis was built by a guy named Eubanks, who's in Huntington, Tennessee. He's a pretty good craftsman. He built the chassis up from chrome moly, powdercoated it red. He was cutting and fitting, so I could get in. He said, "I'll get you in a Corvette." And he finally got me in there. You have to have a special technique to crawl in and out of my Corvette, and I know how to do it, 'cause we built it from the ground up. It's a bored-out 454-I didn't want to go too big. It's got a fogger nitrous system. It runs high 8s with it, in the mid-9s at 150 without, which is decent enough. The paint job was done by a local guy, and the artwork was done in Louisville. The guys did some excellent work. It turns a lot of heads and sounds good, like thunder.

VETTE: Tell us about the Bowling Green plant?

WC: It's on 240 acres-there's a million square feet. We have just over 1,000 employees-roughly 125 are salaried, the rest of them are hourly.

We have a lot of sub-assembly equipment here. We get door shells, and assemble them here. The suspension comes in parts, and we build it up. The engines come in assembled and we finish dressing them out, adding all the accessories on an engine line here. We take subassemblies and build them, as opposed to getting in modules. We build the instrument panels from scratch, the whole cockpit. We get the individual body panels, get them ready, then put that beautiful paint job on them. We get the hydroformed frame rails in pieces, individual rails for each side, and the bumper bars and other parts, from our stamping facility, then we take the multiple pieces and weld them together to create the chassis.

VETTE: How about the quality? The reputation on older Corvettes wasn't too good.

WC: That was one of the things that really bothered me when I came, but since my background was in quality, teaching it and living it in another company, I knew that if I could do anything that would be appreciated, it would be to raise the bar on quality. I had to understand where the quality problems were coming from. I found out that there were things that had to be looked at from an engineering standpoint, and some from a supplier quality standpoint, because the parts coming in left something to be desired in terms of consistent quality, and we left a bit to be desired from a manufacturing and assembly standpoint, too.

I learned that if you get all the parties involved as early as possible, then you can start talking beforehand about what the concerns may be and address them, and design around them, if that's an issue, where you say, "I can't put this together. I'm going to have a problem putting this together in a quality manner." Then maybe it's not too late. You can change things by getting people involved early, you can change designs, where people can "get up in there" and do it right. A supplier might look at a design and say, "I don't know if I can give you the quality you have to have; can you change it like so." When you have a dialog going between engineering, the suppliers, and the plant, you can improve the quality, tremendously.

That's what we did with C5. We were talking to each other early about things that might affect quality or reliability. We continue to work on things as they come up, but at least we've learned to work together. The customers have benefited, and so has General Motors.

VETTE: There's quite a high level of esprit de corps at this plant.

WC: Enthusiasm is very high throughout. This is a special group. We're family, here. We all get out and talk to our customers; the customers talk to our employees. Two-way conversations are going on all the time. We feed the information from customer letters back to the employees, both good and bad. Most of the letters are good, but if we get something we can do something about, we tell the customers, "We appreciate your bringing this to our attention." And then we do something about it.