- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

BOWLING GREEN, KY. | General Motors Co. is putting more muscle into making Corvettes.

The automaker said Wednesday it will invest $131 million — and add about 250 jobs — at the south-central Kentucky assembly plant that produces the classic muscle car.

The investment allows GM to produce the next-generation Corvette at the Bowling Green plant. Work to retrofit the site will begin even as the plant continues to assemble the Corvette for the next two model years, including the 2012 version.

Nearly 400 production workers now assemble Corvettes at the factory, the only GM site that builds the car and home to its production since 1981. About 1,000 people were employed at the plant at its peak in the 1980s, said Chevrolet spokesman David Caldwell.

He said some of the 250 added jobs might be filled by a pool of laid-off workers.

Mr. Caldwell said the plant will not expand, but “what happens inside of its walls changes quite a bit.”

The state has approved $7.5 million in tax incentives for the project.

Plant workers cheered and there was loud applause as the announcement was made at the plant, which has endured shutdowns, a slowdown in production and layoffs since 2008.

“Rumors of our car being moved to another plant, rumors of more layoffs and … plant closures have shown us how vulnerable we are. … Today we lay those rumors to rest,” Shane Colvard, chairman of United Auto Workers Local 2164, told the crowd.

UAW Vice President Joe Ashton praised the investment.

“We need to rebuild the great American middle class,” he said in a statement. “There is no better way to achieve this worthy goal than providing meaningful jobs like the ones being created in Bowling Green.”

Mark Reuss, GM’s North America president, said the investment in Kentucky is part of $3.4 billion made by GM in the U.S. since mid-2009 to keep or create about 9,500 American jobs.

The Corvette plant produced about 15,000 of the cars last year. Corvettes start at $50,000, Mr. Caldwell said.

After falling 9 percent last year, sales of the car have rebounded in 2011. GM sold nearly 4,300 from January through April, an increase of 22 percent.

GM emerged from a 2009 bankruptcy after a government bailout. In April, its overall U.S. sales rose 26 percent.

GM’s made the announcement about the Corvette several months after Ford Motor Co. said it would shut down a Louisville assembly plant for a $600 million renovation that will allow it to build the Escape, a small sport utility vehicle that is selling well.

The Ford plant plans to hire 1,800 more employees — or nearly 5 percent of Ford’s current U.S. workforce — to build a new version of the Ford Escape small SUV.

Toyota’s manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Ky., produces the popular Camry, along with the Avalon and Venza vehicles. It has been forced to impose temporary shutdowns at all of its 13 North American plants after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged factories in northeastern Japan, causing shortages of auto parts.

c AP writer Tom Krisher contributed to this report.

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