While the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban may not go on sale until mid-2020, General Motors is already preparing for huge sales numbers. As part of GM’s $5 billion investment in the U.S. production of full-size pickups and SUVs, the brand has recently announced a $1.4 billion investment in its Arlington Assembly plant. According to GM, this investment will include new technologies and a 1.6 million-square-foot expansion, with 1 million of these feet going to the body shop, and the remaining 600,000-square-feet being set aside for the paint shop.
Originally opened in 1954, GM’s Arlington Assembly plant employs around 4,800 hourly and salaried personnel and is currently ranked in the National Top 100 list of largest green power users due to its use of wind energy. Once complete, this 1.6-million-square-foot expansion will create a floorplan that measures over 5.75 million square feet.
Designed to “improve production-efficiency and build-quality of the all-new 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban,” this monolithic investment serves as further proof of the brand’s commitment to the evolution of both the Tahoe and Suburban. Tech upgrades will include the installation of “high-precision camera- and laser-based inspection systems,” which according to GM will offer “more sophisticated quality checks.” These new tech toys will be backed by two new industrial manufacturing and warehouse supplier facilities nearby, for reduced transportation costs and faster assembly.
“Everything we do at Arlington Assembly is focused on building better vehicles for our customers,” said Bill Kulhanek, plant executive director at Arlington Assembly. “This strategic expansion brings the latest in manufacturing and inspection technologies while adding procedures designed to improve the quality and durability of the Tahoe and Suburban.”
Some new tech-focused features in the body shop worth mentioning include 1,450 all-new robots utilizing the latest six-axis robotic systems, automated cameras and lasers for increased accuracy, as well as robot-mounted Leica scanners. These new systems give GM the ability to utilize techniques like integrated front-end assembly welding, which will supposedly create a far more flush appearance than the old, bolt-on style.
“The new body shop is ground zero for the quality built into the new SUVs,” said Mike Stevens, launch manager for Tahoe and Suburban. “It’s a stronger, more precise foundation on which the vehicles are assembled. With the all-new inspection technologies incorporated, we’ve taken quality control to an even higher level.”
Meanwhile, over in the upgraded paint shop, a new “thin-film” pre-treatment process will be used for prepping bodywork, a more environmentally-friendly process that is accompanied by an equally green “waterborne” top-coat system. These more environmentally conscientious approaches to paint will also be sprayed by robots in such a way that time and waste will be far less of an issue.
“We are now able to perform a single, continuous paint application across the body,” said Benito Garcia, paint shop project lead. “The more consistent color spray-out creates a more consistent finish, from front to rear. It’s a big win for the paint-finish quality of the new Tahoe and Suburban.”
Turning back to Arlington Assembly plant executive director, Bill Kulhanek, we hear closing statements, and some explanation as to what this all means for new Tahoe and Suburban buyers.
“More than the physical changes, the Arlington upgrades increase assembly flexibility in the plant, allowing for more model and trim variations,” Kulhanek says, “That means more choices for customers. In fact, the trim range for Tahoe and Suburban expands to six, with distinct designs and features on each.”