A Few Faces Behind the Trucks at General Motors

A Few Faces Behind the Trucks at General Motors
Words By Kelsey Mays, Photography by Ian Merritt

General Motors invited us last month to its Fort Wayne Assembly plant in northeast Indiana to witness a 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 come down the line. The truck – a red, two-wheel drive V-6 regular cab – will participate in PickupTrucks.com’s forthcoming Light-Duty Work Truck Shootout.

Donning reflective orange vests, photographer Ian Merritt and I joined planning administrator Carmen Mangrum and plant spokeswoman Stephanie Jentgen to see the action. The general assembly building, a long structure just west of the paint shop, is chalk-full of orange framework that holds moving tracks, hoists and other equipment. It builds Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups. Eighty percent are extended cabs, Mangrum said; the remaining 20 percent are single cabs. (Silverado and Sierra crew cabs are split between GM’s Flint, Mich. and Silao, Mexico facilities.) Each truck takes about 24 hours to paint and assemble, and at full capacity a pickup rolls off the line about every minute.

The tenor seemed upbeat. The specter of a double-dip recession still hangs high, and GM's shrinking portfolio leaves many casualties behind – among them an Indianapolis stamping plant, about 100 miles downstate, that's scheduled for closure in 2011. But sales for the Silverado and Sierra are up 16 percent through September, beating the industry's 10-percent increase during the same period. Last spring the plant added a third shift to accommodate heavy-duty pickups from GM’s closing Pontiac, Mich. plant. That brought in 600 jobs. Today, Fort Wayne Assembly employs more than 3,400.

Carmen Mangrum

Mangrum, a graying man with a Tennessee accent, has been at the plant 40 years; earlier stints include one for Nissan in Smyrna, Tenn. Mangrum’s responsibilities include meeting with engineering teams, overseeing test production runs when a new model arrives, and managing the model cadence – so, for example, workers on the trim line have a mix of cabs that doesn’t overwhelm them.

"It takes less time on a regular cab versus an extended cab, so you want to average that time for production," he said. "I don't want [a lot of] extended cabs back to back."

Fortunately, most line workers have others who can take over. We chatted with a few near their stations.

Angie Donovan

Though Angie Donovan is new to Fort Wayne, her GM roots run deep. Donovan, 34, has been with the automaker more than 15 years, and her father and uncle are retired after a combined for 92 years at GM. Donovan, a team leader on the engine line, said she’s excited about the company’s prospects.

"I like that they’re making smaller sport utility vehicles," she said. "They're recognizing the fact that there are a lot of women out there" who want a smaller utility vehicle, and not necessarily "a Suburban."

Still, Donovan wonders why GM got rid of Pontiac, not GMC. She considers the latter brand too similar to Chevrolet. With the hiring of a third shift in Fort Wayne, GM transferred Donovan to the plant from the company's idled Janesville, Wisc. assembly plant – where, incidentally, a lot of Suburbans were built.

Devon Messersmith

Devon Messersmith was one of many assembly workers wearing a Colts shirt – heading into a weekend where Jacksonville would deliver Indianapolis a 31-28 upset. Messersmith, 38, has been with GM for 15 years. A replacement operator on the motor line, he’s been at Fort Wayne Assembly for 12 of those years.

"The best thing about working here is the people – the worst thing is I can't see outside," he said. He's bullish on GM's Duramax V-8 diesel engine, which he says is selling quite well.

"This is it – this is the only job I've had," Mesersmith said. "As long as we keep the third shift on here, we'll be all right."

Amber Johnson and Dave Poor

Amber Johnson and Dave Poor are both team members in final assembly. Johnson, 33, installs air filters. Her roots run deep: GM retirees include her mother, two grandparents and an uncle. She’s been with the automaker 15 years, but she’s uncertain about Fort Wayne’s current straits.

"Truck sales aren't as high as they should be, not for a third shift," Johnson said. Is GM overbuilding for the demand? "We haven't grasped that concept yet," she said. "We're not sure what's going to happen. There's a lot of talk that we're going to be on a break."

Greg Carie

Team member Greg Carie has been with GM for 15 years. He started at the company’s Kokomo, Ind. electronics plant. Now he installs headlights along the final assembly line at Fort Wayne. But Carie, 52, doesn’t come from a GM family. His father and brother worked for Chrysler.

"They said I worked for a foreign company," he said, smiling.

Carie still lives in Kokomo, commuting some 70 miles northeast to work each day. He calls himself "optimistic" about GM's future, but he still worries about gas prices. "Trucks haven't been the most fuel-efficient vehicles," Carie said. "But we're building diesels like they're going out of style."

Comments

Nice to see the harworking people in the plant no matter what maker it is interesting article thanks Mike and put.com

Ha Ha if I am figuring right GM sells more regular cab trucks than Toyota sells Tundras that makes me chuckle .

@Taylor,

So why is the Colorado such a flap when compared to the Tacoma?

This time it is about people - great article!

@oxi,

Who needs a mid size when you have the best selling full size half ton Sivlerado and Sierra!!?? Let it be written. It shall be done in 2011. GM will sell the most trucks.

But some have complained that the Tacoma is *too big* -- it grew to its current size in 2005 -- and expensive. And Ford says it will end production of the Ranger next year because small truck buyers can make do with a small car or fuel-efficient F-150. Small truck buyers have also moved into full-size pickups because the cost of entry-level half-ton trucks is often close to the price tag of midsize pickups.

Those reasons are said to be enough to open the door for GM to potentially offer a modern take on a small truck that's similar in size to the compact pickups of the 1980s, when the segment sold more than 1 million trucks annually.

Through April of this year, *only* 87,985 compact and midsize trucks have been sold, according to J.D. Power and Associates' Power Information Network sales figures.

The key elements of success for GM's future small truck would be fuel economy that’s greater than its full-size pickups and a window sticker that’s significantly less. It would also be a completely different and smaller platform than the planned next-generation overseas version of the Colorado that will be built in Thailand.

GM isn't the only manufacturer still serious about small trucks. Chrysler has said it hopes to produce a successor to the Dodge Dakota, which ends production in 2011, and Toyota's subsidiary Scion has said it's also considering offering a true compact pickup.

If our sources are correct -- and we're confident they are -- we think this is a brilliant move on GM's part to take advantage of a segment that's only down on its luck because the product choice today is so poor.

Sources: GM Working on Return to Small Truck Roots
http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2010/05/sources-gm-working-on-return-to-small-truck-roots.html

oxi,

It's because people dont like or buy small trucks !!

The tacoma is a huge mid size truck..its bigger than the Dakota and dwarfs the GM's Colorado/Canyon small trucks...

Nice to see everybody look reasonably sober. Maybe that one guy was a little sprung from the previous night. You know who you are :)

That looks like a good American workforce right there. I wish they'd build the 4 door Silverado's here in America instead of Mexico though. That's very disheartening to me. Either way, you get the bean counters out of the way and these good people will build a world class truck I'm sure! We gotta show those bean counters the door though GM especially on your trucks. Interiors, sheet metal and bumpers are sub par for a working truck. The bean counters have gone too thin and too cheap....

@ OXI
Because the Colorado/Canyon suck basicaly , and so does the Tacoma its too big to bulbous and chunky as hell , the Hilux is far better in every way , and i am hoping toyota pulls there head out and bases the next Tacoma on the world hilux .

@ Bobby - the cut and paste queen of GM.
Can you thread together any logical thoughts of your own?

It is nice to see the faces behind the products. We forget about the human side of the factory.

Nice story.

@Lou,

LMAO!

@Mike L.

No trucks news, hahahha. I guess you have to do what you have to do.

How about some Trucks faces from Chryslers, oh wait, we already did and they are stoned/drunk.

How about some from Ford or that other company that sells a few trucks a year....er um Toyota/Nissan.....yea that's it.

Thanks in advance!

@ Frank - I think all of the stoner GM guys are too busy "logging on" under the bobsie boy alias to get caught on camera.
Mike - try the local internet cafe'.

@Lou,

Funny!!!

@ron- actaully they do build some Crew cab half tons in the US. the article said they build about half in Flint and half in MX

Now, while we're inside with the folk who manufacture the vehicles, let's sneak a few Camaro 3.6L V6 engines over to the Work Truck line (check with the boss first LOL).

Wow Greg Carie looks like Clint Eastwood!!!!

Very much detailed. This is a great article because it has so much lessons to learn. All it needs is understanding. I like the way it showcases the article. Nice blog.



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