GM Builds A New Malibu And A Diverse Workforce In Kansas City | KCUR

GM Builds A New Malibu And A Diverse Workforce In Kansas City

May 5, 2015

General Motors says it will sink another $174 million into its Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas, to get it ready to produce a new Malibu — one equipped with technology designed to keep teenage drivers safer.  

GM CEO Mary Barra talks with reporters about the 2016 Malibu to be built in Kansas City, Kansas
Credit Frank Morris / KCUR

GM already builds Malibus at Fairfax (and the Malibu’s fancier cousin the Buick LaCross) but plant manager Bill Kulhanek says the 2016 Malibu will be something else entirely.

“It’s a brand new architecture. We’re the first in the globe to launch it. China and Korea will follow us. So, we’re brand new to the market,” says Kulhanek. 

The new Malibu will be little larger, yet 300 pounds lighter than current model. GM says the hybrid version will go up to 47 miles on a gallon of gas. So-called “teen driver” technology will allow whoever controls the PIN number to set limits on speed, and audio volume, and monitor the driving habits of a kid — or maybe even an unruly adult.

GM CEO Mary Barra says it’s an important new car for GM, and one she’s glad to see built at Fairfax.

“When you look at the beautiful design of the vehicle, the fuel economy, all the technology features, both safety and otherwise, around the vehicle. And being built at the Fairfax assembly plant that has a track record of proven quality,” says Barra. “I think it’s going to be a winning combination. I can’t wait to see how the vehicle does as we move forward.”

The launch is also good news for the Fairfax plant, and the broader Kansas City area economy. Jorge Rodriguez, the shop chair for UAW Local 31, says GM had recently sunk some $600 million into the plant, before Monday’s announcement.

“We have pretty much a brand new body shop, we will have a new technology paint shop,” says Rodriguez proudly. “So, our building is almost to the point where it is renovated completely.”

It’s a factory that survived the painful contraction of the auto industry in the great recession, one now poised to help meet growing demand for cars, and to attract well-paid auto assembly workers.

“Employees here today are from all over the country,” says Rodriguez. “So during the ’08 bankruptcy, a lot of plants shut down and people migrated. We are a group of people here, a very diverse group of people from different parts of the country.”

Rodriguez says it’s an agile workforce, one that’s had to learn new technologies along the way. 

Some 3,500 people work at the Fairfax plant, producing vehicles sold all over North America, and spending their pay checks the Kansas City area.