Redesigned Cruze Makes Its First Trip Home

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – It’s been 15 days since the next-generation Chevrolet Cruze was unveiled in Detroit. The critics were almost unanimous in their reviews that the changes will improve the Cruze in nearly every way. And Thursday, it finally came home.

“All I can really say about it is, ‘Wow,’ and, ‘Welcome home,’ ” said UAW Local 1112 President Glenn Johnson after the unveiling ceremony at the General Motors plant here. “We’ve been anticipating it very anxiously and we can finally see it.”

Johnson said he and several others from GM Lordstown attended the unveiling in Detroit two weeks ago. But Thursday was the first time most of the plant workers got to see the car up-close and in person.

“A lot of folks here have seen small portions of the new build – the parts of it they built – but very few very lucky enough to see the final version on the line,” plant manager Steve Notar Donato said. “Everyone’s fired up.”

And judging from the roughly 200 plant workers and retirees who showed up for the unveiling, most of whom stayed around afterward to take pictures, get in and admire the new car, Notar Donato’s assessment seemed spot on.

The process of redesigning Cruze began about two years ago, Notar Donato said at the press conference. While the process is “a closely held secret,” he said, it involved sending some of the plant workers to Germany.

“It’s a years-long process. Our launch team was over there for months identifying issues so that when it does finally come to [Lordstown], it goes smoothly,” he said.

Production of the next-generation Cruze begins early next year and will hit showroom floors shortly after. What buyers will see are upgrades in almost every aspect of the car, said Martin Hayes, global vehicle chief engineer for Chevrolet.

“It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. But the evolution is great in all areas of the vehicle. We’re doing everything a little bit better,” he said, listing of changes that include new styling, better fuel economy, more legroom, increased horsepower and less weight. “We’re taking the great success we’ve had with the current product and making it better,” he stated.

Among other representatives from Chevrolet and GM, some of the invited guests at the unveiling were members of CruzeTalk.com, an online forum for Cruze enthusiasts. Customer requests – like some of the ideas suggested on CruzeTalk – are what fueled most of the changes to the Cruze redesign, Hayes said.

“We listen to customers all the time, as any good business would. In today’s day and age, it’s really easy because of social media and blogs. We can get very real-time information from customers,” he explained.

One of the chief changes is an increased wheelbase, resulting in a few more inches of legroom in the back seat.

“That’s what they wanted and that’s what we’ve done,” Hayes commented.

Throughout the 49-year history of the Lordstown, things weren’t always easy, though. Some speakers at the press conference noted that GM’s future was in doubt in 2009. But, Johnson said, the workers kept their heads down and pressed on. Since the Cruze was introduced in 2008, 1.3 million have been produced at the plant.

“That’s a lot. When you run three shifts every day for five or six, sometimes seven, days a week, it’s phenomenal. This is probably the best car GM Lordstown has ever had,” Mayor Arno Hill said. “It’s a testament that they’re able to build this car without going through the bidding process.”

The new Cruze, Hill added, secures the future of the plant and ensures that jobs will stay in the Mahoning Valley.

Some of the 2016 Cruzes will be assembled in Coahuila, Mexico, GM announced at the end of March. That doesn’t concern the workers at Lordstown, Johnson said.

“We build as many as we can possibly build here. We run around the clock five days a week. We look forward to that same kind of demand for the next generation of Chevy Cruze,” the UAW Local 1112 president said.

Notar Donato and Johnson both noted their favorite aspect of the 2016 Cruze is the design – “The previous Cruze was attractive, but this one is exciting. And there’s a difference between the two,” Notar Donato said – but Hayes, who oversaw design of the car the past few years, chose something else.

“It’s got to be the overall foundational structure,” he explained. “It’s solid, strong and light. That works into everything else on the car. It makes it ride better, handle better, accelerate faster and it’s all quieter, too.”

As for when the car finally hits the showrooms, no one at GM Lordstown Thursday had any doubt that the redesigned Cruze will be a success with consumers.

“The Cruze has been widely accepted by the public, not just in the United States but around the world, and we have high hopes that it will be as widely accepted into the future,” Notar Donato said.

Pictured: Chevy dealers Doug Sweeney, left, and Greg Greenwood, right, join the UAW’s Robert Morales and GM’s Steve Notar Donato at the event.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.