Bad break after bad break has been the story of GM’s Lake Orion, Michigan, plant as of late, and the hits just keep on coming. Things were looking up last June when GM announced a $245 million investment in Orion Assembly, which builds the Buick Verano and Chevrolet Sonic, but according to Automotive News the investment will instead shift to the company’s Fairfax, Kansas facility.
A GM spokesperson confirmed that the company informed workers at Orion in January of the reallocation, citing ongoing evaluations to “build vehicles as cost-effectively as possible.”
The plan was the upgrade Orion with a small Cadillac crossover, likely dubbed XT3 or XT4. It’s likely that despite the venue change to Kansas, the new small crossover, which would be positioned below the Cadillac XT5 (formerly SRX), is still on the table given Cadillac’s plans to build eight new models by 2020. Fairfax currently builds the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse sedans.
It’s an unfortunate bait-and-switch for Orion and its 1,100-odd employees, following layoffs at the start of 2015 and again in January 2016. Because of slow demand for the Verano and Sonic, 160 employees were let go at the start of 2015, but the suspension of a second shift in January 2016 cost an additional 500 jobs. AN reports that in the first quarter of this year, Verano sales fell 9.4 percent while Sonic sales improved by 11.6 percent. The 2017 Chevrolet Sonic is getting significant refresh, including updated styling, interior appointments, and lots of new technology. Prospects are less rosy for the Verano, which will likely be phased out starting this fall, a local UAW president told The Detroit Free Press.
As the Verano goes away, Orion Assembly will take on production of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt by the end of 2016. GM has invested $160 million in Orion Assembly for new tooling and equipment to ramp up for the company’s all-electric hatchback.