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Preproduction Volts roll off line at GM Hamtramck plant

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Preproduction Volts roll off line at GM Hamtramck plant



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Detroit's next big tour stop may very well end up being the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant where the Chevrolet Volt is being built.

GM officials said they're already preparing for huge interest -- from school groups to industry leaders -- wanting to visit the plant once official production of the extended-range electric car begins in November.

"I'm expecting that we will have all different kinds of visits," plant manager Teri Quigley told the Free Press in an interview this week.

"I think it will be five times as many people as normal at the onset," she said.

Preproduction of the Volt began last week at the plant, which saddles the Detroit and Hamtramck border. Three Volt cars were built last week, and GM expects to build fewer than 500 preproduction versions from now and until official production begins.

Already, the daily list of non-factory workers requesting access to the plant exceeds the factory's 1,100-person workforce, Quigley said.

"It's three times what you would normally expect ... and I'm only building a couple of them," she said. "What happens later?"

Uninvited visitors aren't welcome yet. Those coming to the plant now are either GM workers from other offices or suppliers working on the Volt project.

GM is working on plans for outside visitors, such as educational materials in the plant's lobby and a video about the Volt.

Besides the Volt, the plant has some other interesting features, including a cemetery dating to 1863 and a 16.5-acre wildlife habitat. The factory also built President Barack Obama's limousines.

Unlike other GM vehicles

The first Chevrolet Volt drove off the line at General Motors' Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant last week to cheers from a spontaneous crowd gathered to watch.

It's not the official production -- which is to begin in November -- but a tangible milestone that shows the extended-range electric car is getting closer to becoming a reality.

"It was a heart-pumping moment," plant manager Teri Quigley said about driving a Volt off the assembly line. "It's real -- we've been looking at this thing for a long time."

With its extend-range, electric-drive powertrain, the Volt is unlike other GM vehicles.

"We're totally excited. This is groundbreaking for us," said Sheryl Brown, 44, a UAW worker in the quality department. In 2007, the mood was drastically different with rumors the plant might close.

But the UAW labor contract that year gave workers hope with an agreement that said if GM decided to move forward with the Volt, it would be built at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

Last year, GM announced it was investing $336 million in the plant to prepare for the Volt.

The economic downturn has been felt at the plant, which was down for 19 weeks last year.

As GM was facing its darkest days at the end of 2008, Quigley and her team quietly began preparing the plant for the Volt.

Quigley has had teams at GM's preproduction facility in Warren working on early versions of the Volt as they prepare to build the vehicle. "We've done a ton of training," she said.

'We can touch them'

The plant doesn't have a separate assembly line for the Volt, and it will be built along with the factory's other vehicles, the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne.

There are some differences, however, for the Volt, including a 400-pound battery pack.

"It's really, really great that we've got this Volt in our system. It's real. We can touch them and feel them and do our job on them. But at the end of the day, the customer who is buying the DTS in front of that Volt or the Lucerne behind that Volt, doesn't care that there was a Volt between the two," Quigley said. "We can be excited, but we have to be focused, we can't let the Volt distract us from what we're doing on these other cars."

While Detroit-Hamtramck is running at one shift right now, Quigley hopes demand for the Volt and possibly another vehicle will justify adding a second shift in the future.

She's optimistic about GM's future. "The desire to succeed is there," she said.

Drawn to engineering

Quigley has been with GM for more than 20 years and became Detroit-Hamtramck plant manager in 2007.

She's from Dexter and was the first female student in her high school's auto body shop class.

Her father, Bill Quigley, worked in GM public relations before retiring in the 1980s, but she was dead set on finding her own path outside of GM.

"I was never going to do what my dad did," she said.

But her interest in engineering eventually attracted her to a program at General Motors Institute, now known as Kettering University, that led to a lifelong career.

"I really love what I do," she said. "You know how you did at the end of the day. There's no wondering if you did good, bad or indifferent."



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