GM Path to Electric Future Leads Through Detroit-Area Plant

The plant in Orion Township, MI, which was on GM’s cost-cutting chopping block during the automaker’s bankruptcy in 2009, is now a center of the company’s push for electrification.

Joseph Szczesny

May 1, 2023

4 Min Read
GM Orion Assembly
GM’s plant in Orion Township, MI, to convert to electric pickup production.General Motors

On his way to a landslide victory in his 1984 re-election campaign, Ronald Reagan made a point of visiting the General Motors assembly plant in Orion Township, MI, at the time GM’s newest factory and a symbol of the economic revitalization touted by the Republican president.

In 2024, Democrat Joe Biden could well have a chance to reprise Reagan’s visit to Orion as GM prepares a major overhaul of the plant in suburban Detroit to build a new generation of battery-electric pickup trucks, which dovetails with the current president’s plans to remake the nation’s transportation system with clean vehicles and clean energy.

GM is now laying out plans for the Orion plant, which was constructed in the early 1980s as a modern replacement and a landing spot for employees from the old-line assembly plant tucked into the Pontiac Motor Div.’s manufacturing complex in nearby Pontiac, MI.

Now the plant, which was on GM’s cost-cutting chopping block during the automaker’s bankruptcy in 2009, is now a center of the company’s push for electrification.

“Orion Assembly currently employs 1,270 (union-) represented and non-represented team members. When the plant is fully operational following the transformation, employment at the site will nearly triple,” says GM spokeswoman Madeline Keller.

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“Our future products are the Chevrolet Silverado EV and the GMC Sierra Denali EV (pictured, above). While we don’t have specifics available regarding the transformation timeline, we look forward to launching electric truck production in 2024,” she says.

GM CEO Mary Barra notes during a conference call with analysts and investors that the automaker has lined up 340 fleet customers for the Silverado EV.

“When Orion EV Assembly reopens in 2024 and reaches full production, employment will nearly triple, and we'll have a companywide capacity to build 600,000 electric trucks annually. We’ll need this capacity because our trucks more than measure up to our customers’ expectations, and we'll demonstrate that work and EV range are not mutually exclusive terms for Chevrolet and GMC trucks,” Barra says.

The CEO says that as part of the transformation of the Orion plant, GM plans to end production of the battery-electric Chevrolet Bolt and Bolt EUV at the end of this year.

Wards Intelligence/LMC Automotive forecasts GM will build 2,735 battery-electric pickup trucks at the Orion factory in 2024 and 24,339 in 2025 as production builds to 100,339 in 2028. The plant began building the Bolt (pictured, below) in 2016 and production reached 30,218 in 2020, according to Wards Intelligence, before GM had to shut down production after a series of battery fires; production dropped to 19,515 in 2021 and 15,368 in 2022.

Chevrolet-Bolt EV

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The Bolt, which starts at $26,500 and qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, has been repeatedly touted by the Biden Admin. as an example of an affordable EV. It is GM's first mass-market EV, accounting for more than 90% of GM’s EV sales in the U.S.

The Bolt was preceded by the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid that was in production until 2019.

GM also says it is expanding its network of battery suppliers by setting up a joint venture with Samsung SDI. The companies plan to invest more than $3 billion to build a new battery cell manufacturing plant at an as-yet-unspecified site in the U.S. that is targeted to begin operations in 2026.

"GM's supply chain strategy for EVs is focused on scalability, resiliency, sustainability and cost-competitiveness. Our new relationship with Samsung SDI will help us achieve all these objectives," says Barra. "The cells we will build together will help us scale our EV capacity in North America well beyond 1 million units annually."

The plant is projected to have production lines to build nickel-rich prismatic and cylindrical cells.

GM has confirmed it will build a $200 million parts plant on the site of the former Palace of Auburn Hills sports and entertainment venue to support production of Chevrolet Silverado BEVs to be manufactured at Orion Assembly. About 1,000 new jobs reportedly will be created.

“The company is still determining the scope of work and which supplier will have operations in support of the plant," GM spokeswoman Maria Raynal says.

Orion Assembly is two miles (3.2 km) northwest of the Palace site, where the NBA’s Detroit Pistons played from 1988 to 2017. The Palace was demolished in 2020 after the Pistons relocated its home court to the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

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