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Watching My New Buick Verano Being Born

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Dar completes his first drive of his brand new Verano (photo by Tom Burch) GM officials Matt Purdy and Carter Sperry pose with Dar and his new Buick Verano outside the Orion Assembly plant following a quick drive on a nearby public road. Dar took the wheel and was impressed with the Buick's quiet cabin and perky performance. Following the photo shoot, the Verano was loaded on a carrier for a trip to LeValley Chevrolet and Buick in Benton Harbor.

GM gives me a royal welcome

By Dar Davis
Photos by Tom Burch

There is nothing like a visit from Santa to lift one’s spirits…and boy, did I have a Christmas morning experience on November 1. My “little-boy” eyes opened wide and they stayed that way all day when at 10:10 a.m. on that Thursday morning I arrived at the expansive GM Assembly Plant in Orion Township, Michigan (located just off I-75 in Lake Orion, Michigan north of Detroit) and began an experience of a lifetime.

Back in September I finally ordered a new car to replace my now-sold Neon. The process for me to decide which car to buy was a long and arduous journey. Buying a new car is a pretty big deal for most of us but especially for someone like me who loves cars and buys them infrequently.

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When it became known that I had settled on the American-made Buick Verano, I was given a tip from friend Steve Purdy of Williamston, MI, a fellow auto journalist (he’s the Detroit Editor of website) and a charter member of the local Concours car show, that I should get in touch with his nephew Matt. As it turned out, Matt holds the title of Vehicle Performance Manager: Small, Compact and Mini Cars at General Motors and he helped oversee the development of the Verano.

I did contact him, and often. The really kind man had to put up with me over a number of months as I emailed innumerable times to check on things. I wanted to know what new colors would be added if I waited until the 2013 model year to order my Buick. Would the 2013 model have a backup camera, I asked?

A most important question that I asked Matt was whether it would be possible for me to be at the plant when my new car was being assembled. It has always been a dream of mine. He wasn’t sure but he promised to check. Soon I heard from a gentleman named Phil Colley at Buick Communications and then Plant Communications Manager Kevin Nadrowski at the Orion Assembly plant contacted me. With Kevin in charge, things got very interesting and exciting real quick.

It wasn’t too long before Kevin sent me a schedule. The Verano build date would be just before or on Thursday, November 1 and I was to arrive at 10:10 a.m. on that date for a tour.

My son-in-law Tom Burch is a GM employee with an office in the corporate headquarters at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. He, naturally, asked if he could accompany me on my visit. I’m so grateful he did.

After arriving at the Orion Assembly Plant on Giddings Road in Lake Orion, Tom and I were shown a short safety video in the plant’s lobby and soon after were joined by both Communications Manager Kevin and Vehicle Performance Manager Matt Purdy. Next we were introduced to Tony Hufford, the UAW Local 5960 Communications Coordinator, and were given the required safety gear such as protective glasses, high impact color vests and such so we could immediately enter the plant’s assembly area.

It was a good thing I had Tom along. We walked along the floor of the 4 million square foot factory and I had become completely mesmerized by the whirl of machine and man busy building an automobile. I had forgotten that I had brought my camera and wanted lots of photos to record my visit. Tom took charge and ended up taking 74 photos.

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With Kevin as our guide and Matt as an escort, Tom and I were given a thorough tour of the plant. We were impressed with how efficiently the plant was laid out and how clean the site was. Kevin pointed out the many changes at the plant that improved working conditions and added equipment that upgraded the quality of each car assembled.

As we concluded our walking tour, Kevin arranged for me to meet both Plant Manager Steve Brock and Quality Operations Manager Carter Sperry. They took time and explained over a 20-minute span of time all that GM and the Orion management and labor team has done and is doing to build the best automobiles in the world.

Carter, who is responsible for every vehicle that comes off the production line, patiently explained to me that GM and Orion have established clearly identifiable standards to meet so that dependable cars are built consistently. And it’s his job that those standards are followed. I was very, very impressed and have complete confidence that my Verano will be a car to be proud of.

Orion was opened in 1983 and has 1,824 hourly and salaried workers. Over its lifetime it has built everything from luxury cars like Cadillac and Olds 98 sedans and mid-size models like Malibu and Pontiac G6. To date, the workers at Orion have built 4.6 million GM vehicles.

Workers and management are proud of a safety record the plant holds: 10 million man-hours of operation without a lost workday. The plant also was the first GM facility to receive the Clean Corporate Citizen designation by the State of Michigan.

Following a massive, $545 million retooling in 2010, the plant now produces the Chevrolet Sonic sub-compact hatch and sedan and the compact Buick Verano. Using a combination of up-to-the-moment modern robotic equipment and the deft hand of highly trained workers, Orion assembles 825 vehicles a day, one third being Buick Veranos. The plants annual capacity is 160,000 units with workers presently putting in four, ten-hour shifts weekly. That schedule will change early next year when the plant goes to a more traditional five day/eight-hour schedule.

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Then – there it sat in a well-lighted space. My new Buick beckoned. The GM team gave me plenty of time to examine and admire my new car. I was introduced to Gary Jager, the team member who had just completed giving my car a thorough Global Customer Audit including a dynamic 15-mile road test, an eight-minute soaking in the water test and a 3-hour top to bottom examination.

The final surprise? Carter invited me to take my new car for a drive. A quick spin on public roads near the plant in my new car was the final highlight of my visit. I was very aware that this courtesy was a rare gift and I enjoyed every moment of it.

I was incredibly impressed with the GM team that met with me. I’d need pages of space to write all that I want to share about my experience as a guest of these professional and committed GM employees. In the near future, I may take the opportunity to share with readers more of my observations garnered on my visit.

We hear so much negative stuff about how poorly our domestic auto industry have done in the past. What we don’t hear is news about how well the industry is doing today. Gone are the days when management and unions were at loggerheads. Today is a new era in union/management cooperation and the positive results of this development are American-built automobiles that are equal in style and quality to any vehicle built in the world.

The men and women who now design and build cars for the Domestic Three automakers have a crystal clear vision of what needs to be done to succeed. I’ve never been prouder of the accomplishments of our American workers, designers and engineers and know that my new Verano is well built and will provide me with years of dependable and satisfactory service.

I can’t wait for it to arrive in my hometown for delivery.

Dar Davis