But with a pandemic raging, a handful of General Motors workers have labored on — including several dozen at a plant in Bedford, Ind., that makes chassis for the Chevrolet Corvette, one of G.M.’s most iconic and expensive vehicles.
A G.M. spokesman, confirming the accounts of workers, said the factory’s continuing operation was aimed at reducing a chassis shortage and helping resume Corvette production more quickly once the company reopens an assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky.
The spokesman said that the Bedford plant was running three shifts a day — with about 20 people per shift, down from about 250 hourly workers normally — and that the workers had volunteered for the assignment, at their usual wage.
The G.M. spokesman identified two U.S. facilities, aside from the Bedford plant, where the company had continued production: one in Arlington, Texas, where workers returned for about 10 days to finish building a sport utility vehicle before the plant changes over to a new model, which had previously been reported, and another in Lockport, N.Y., where workers began making parts this week to service existing vehicles.
Though it is unclear when Corvette assembly will resume, outside analysts have underscored the importance of the car — whose most recent model typically sells for $60,000 to $80,000 — to the company’s prospects.
A Morgan Stanley report in November predicted that Corvette sales would bring in roughly 2 percent of G.M.’s revenue in 2020, an estimated $3.3 billion, and put the car’s profit margin at 16.5 percent, about twice the company’s average in North America. (The analysts later revised their estimates to account for the pandemic’s impact.)
The Morgan Stanley analysts said the Corvette could be critical to G.M.’s longer-term strategy if the company could take advantage of the car’s brand name and customer loyalty in other lines of business, such as B.E.V.s, or battery electric vehicles.
Corvette is “more than a needle-mover for G.M.,” the analysts wrote. “We’re looking at the potential of a hypothetical Corvette brand expansion, into S.U.V. and B.E.V.s, as a way for G.M. to help fund the transition to electric.”
The report predicted that Corvette sales could increase to about 100,000 in 2029, from 40,000 this year, if the company developed a Corvette S.U.V. — a step other high-end sports car manufacturers have taken and one that a former G.M. vice chairman, Bob Lutz, has urged. (The company declined to comment on future vehicles.)
Since the Morgan Stanley report, however, the Corvette has faced a series of setbacks. After years in development, the newest Corvette Stingray was scheduled to begin assembly in December. But the car did not start coming off production lines until February, a delay that a company email to dealers attributed to last year’s 40-day strike. The email was posted on the website Corvette Forum.
By March, not long after G.M. began assembling the cars, demand proved so high that the company stopped accepting orders. It redirected new orders to the 2021 model, which the company said it planned to begin accepting in late May.
The G.M. spokesman said the shortage of parts from Bedford was a problem because they were used at a key point in Corvette assembly.
Two G.M. employees in Bedford, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about company operations, said the shortage had to do with errors during the new production process. The company spokesman attributed the shortage to the gradual ramp-up typical for the introduction of a new vehicle.