Recently, General Motors hired on a new manger for their Bowling Green Assembly Plant, the very spot that every Corvette has been constructed and brought to life at since 1981. This new valued employee is known as Kai Spande, and will be filling the shoes of the Jeffery Lamarche, who was transferred the to Flint, Michigan facility. Spande is settling into the new roll and mentioned that the new job feels, “like a family reunion.”
Thanks to the Daily News, we can share a little about the new Corvette Plant Manager. Spande is just 47 years young, and has been into cars for quite sometime. He mentioned, “I was that kid in high school always tinkering with cars, I had to be hands on,” as these were the only cars that he could afford at the time. He continued, “my first car was a 1977 Chevy Monza.”
As a young man, he earned a degree in industrial technology from the University of Northern Iowa in 1991. At that point, Spande began working for GM as a tooling designer, and has done stints as a director, plant manager, and numerous other leadership positions for GM from Ohio to New York and Japan to Germany. He has almost been with GM for 25 years, and was most recently coordinating power train product engineering for GM’s European operations, located in Germany.
“I was on my patio in Germany when the phone rang, It was out of the blue. When I accepted, I told (GM North American Manufacturing Manager) Arvin Jones I really loved the Corvette and I think it’ll be an easy connection for me,” Spande said. “Part of that connection is embracing the passionate community of fellow Corvette devotees who consider Bowling Green their Mecca. I’m learning a lot more about what’s going on in the Corvette community, you only get that in the Bowling Green plant. That’s very special.”
In fact, during Spande’s first week at the new facility, country music star and Corvette fan Brad Paisley came to the plant to take delivery of his new C7 Z06, followed by a visit to the National Corvette Museum. Spande added, “No other car assembly plant has a museum across the street. You just don’t get that anywhere else.”
Spande has quite the task on his hands for the remainder of the year and moving into 2016, as he will be overseeing the $439 million, 450,000-square-foot, all new painting facility that is currently under construction neighboring the existing facility. Spande mentioned, “What’s different for the Corvette is we’re painting plastic and composite materials and doing panel painting, and they all need to match.” For those unaware, panel painting simply means that the panels of a particular car are not painted together, but in different production cycles, where they can paint 100 red bumpers for example, before painting 100 red hoods. This is in stark contrast (and much more efficient) to rolling a single car into a paint booth along with the accompanying panels and shooting the whole job from start to finish.
“Right now we’re at capacity, building 40,000 vehicles a year. Our intention is to continue to maintain a desire for the Corvette. But you have to be really careful,” Spande said. Meaning that over-expanding can quickly land a company in hot water if demand or the economy dips. “You need to find that sweet spot.” Fortunately for Corvette, the fan base appears to be growing rather steadily over the last few generations, and while many people consider the Vette to be a dream car, it has something going for it that most do not. Spande explains, “Growing up in Iowa, we saw a lot of Corvettes driving around – it’s an aspirational vehicle. But unlike other dream cars such as Ferraris or Porsches with sticker prices well into six figures, the Corvette is obtainable.”
According to Spande, he is settling in well to his new living situation in both Kentucky and his new job at the Corvette plant. He mentioned that he has never been much of a “big-city guy” considering that he grew up in rural Iowa, and even opted to leave on the outskirts of town when he was working in Germany. We can’t blame him there, after all it can be a little hard to let a Corvette stretch its legs on a one-way grid of congested streets.
Lastly, Spande mentioned that his 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son will be attending school, so his GMC Denali has plenty of use ahead over the newt few years, but wanted to instill that, “another Corvette will be in my future!”