Cruze Gets Cleveland Spotlight Before it Comes to Dealers

CLEVELAND – As he drove from Lordstown to Cleveland for one last look at the Chevrolet Cruze on its nationwide auto show tour, Steve Notar Donato felt no different than he did on his normal commute.

“It’s the same thing that’s been going through my head every day,” he said. “We’re excited. The whole staff is excited. When you look at the vehicle, you can’t help but be excited.”

Notar Donato, plant manager of General Motors’ Lordstown Assembly, and the rest of the workers there have been eagerly awaiting the day the redesigned Cruze is available to customers.

And with its launch date just a few weeks away – Notar Donato expects the first shipments to head out in nearly March – the Cruze is on display at the Cleveland Auto Show, just over an hour away from its home in the Mahoning Valley.

“The Cruze is huge for Chevrolet. We sold 3.8 million of original Cruze worldwide. I can’t speak to exactly what we expect out of this one, but we’re all excited about it,” said launch engineer Jim Dimond. “It will play a strong role in Chevrolet’s future and with the hatchback model, it will be of importance to the brand.”

Chevrolet showcased the 2016 Cruze at the auto show’s media day Friday at the I-X Center, gathering the Mahoning Valley’s Chevrolet dealers, Lordstown workers and Chevrolet employees. The one word among them all was “excitement.”

“We revealed it in June, so there’s been a lot of excitement building up,” said Robert Morales, president of UAW Local 1714. “We saw a trend where [sales] went down, but we’re looking forward to it coming back once it hits the lots in the coming months.”

Greg Greenwood, owner of Greenwood Chevrolet in Austintown, has seen the 2016 Cruze before, but not a version like what was on display – the same model that customers will drive.

“The Cruze we’ve seen so far was an early, early version that wasn’t ready for commerce. This one here is ready to ship and that’s exciting,” he said. “The contribution the Lordstown plant makes is huge and the contribution this car makes in Chevrolet showrooms is huge.”

Even customers are excited he said. Last month, the Cruze took the top spot as the best selling new vehicle in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties for the first time in over a year. More than 180 were sold in the three counties and with a limited inventory of the previous body style, dubbed the Cruze Limited, available before the redesigned model comes out, the increased sales have been a cause for concern for some dealerships.

“We’re getting low on those and that’s the segment people want to buy,” said Diane Sauer, owner of Diane Sauer Chevrolet in Warren. “That’s what we’re excited about: getting the new ones in because we need to be able to sell cars in the segment.”

She forecasts the Cruze will remain near the top of the Valley’s best-seller list for a while. Her dealership saw a boost in sales when Chevy launched redesigned Impalas and Malibus last year, which bodes well for the Cruze.

Work on the 2016 Cruze began two years ago, with a “small core team of individuals involved in every aspect of the car,” Notar Donato said, including design, engineering and assembly.

Much of the engineering was done in Germany and over the course of the past year, GM has worked to get the Lordstown plant ready to produce the new Cruze. For several months, both body styles have been assembled simultaneously at the plant.

“We always start a little slow. We don’t just ramp right up and get into it,” said Dan Morgan, shop chairman for UAW Local 1112. “A lot of things are done the same way we used to do it, but when you get new content and new ways parts fit together, you have to get yourself back to speed.”

Of course, there are still trade secrets that Chevrolet wanted to keep under wraps. Workers had to sign a confidentiality agreement, according to Local 1112 President Glenn Johnson, and were barred from discussing the car outside their job.

“We were on lockdown and that’s how it should be,” he said. “We want to the first ones to do something and be leaders in the industry. We don’t want to tip our hand.”

After years of work and months of anticipation, the Cruze will finally come to showrooms next month and those involved, from building to selling, can’t wait. But that doesn’t mean the work is done yet. Chevrolet has been working to ensure that the new Cruzes are problem-free before they’re shipped out and there are constant improvements to the process, Notar Donato said.

“It’s continuous improvement and it’s the foundation that our system is built upon,” the plant manager said. “Every day, our team members are finding new ways to do their job better and make the car better for customers.”

Pictured: Mahoning Valley Chevrolet dealers, Lordstown Assembly workers and Chevrolet employees at the Cleveland Auto Show, where the redesigned 2016 Cruze was showcased.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.