Thursday, September 22, 2011

The General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant open house reminds us how important the auto industry is to Kansas City

Some people don't realize how big of a car town Kansas City really is. I mean, you kind of get an idea of what kind of classic car scene we have here if you look at all the car show reviews on this website. But even more importantly, there are thousands of people that make their living in Kansas City's thriving automotive industry.

Nowhere was that more obvious than at the Fairfax Assembly Plant open house, which was held this week in the state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Kansas City, Kan.

The General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant, located at 3201 Fairfax Trafficway, is a monstrous, 3,200,000 sq-ft facility that currently manufacturers the Buick Lacrosse and Chevrolet Malibu. It has also been tagged to build Chevrolet’s next generation of the popular Malibu. Plant officials claim that Fairfax is the largest employer in the Kansas City area.

The factory has been building cars in its current location since 1987 (with the 1988 Pontiac Grand Prix). Over the years, it has also built the last generation Chevrolet Malibu and Malibu Maxx.

Before the current plant opened in 1987, the original Fairfax Assembly Plant was located next to the Fairfax Airport, and built B-25 Mitchell aircraft during World War II. After the war, General Motors converted the original plant to automotive assembly. F-84F fighter jets were also built in that location.

I've taken plant tours before, but I am amazed by them every time. I mean, take what happens in this one. In one section, they're stamping out massive sheets of cold steel to make large body panels. In another, they're welding these together to form the car's structure. Over here, they're building transaxles and suspensions. And over there, they're installing wiring harnesses and interiors.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of little sub-stations putting all of these components, big and small, together to form one part of the car or another. And then somehow, after all the panels are painted separately, all the options and components arrive in different crates, and all the wheels and tires roll down from some magic place where wheels and tires are born, everything comes together to form a complete car.

This would seem incredible--almost impossible--to me if every car were the same. But every car is not the same. Not at all. I mean, how do the red doors and beige interior get through that maze and make it to the car they're supposed to? And to make things even more perplexing, they aren't even the same kind of cars. They might have six new Malibus roll down the line, then a Buick Lacrosse or two sneaks right in there with them. I can't state enough how crazy it is to me that this all works out.

I went to the open house with a couple of co-workers. One of them, Tony Pacheco, had an inside connection at the plant. His dad, Dave, has been working at Fairfax for 38 years, and his brother, also Dave, is a plant engineer. They generously gave us a little behind the scenes tour of their departments, which was very cool in its own right. And what really impressed me about those guys was how much pride they took in their areas of expertise, and how excited they were to share some of that with us. I think it speaks well for the products they're building that there are people that care about them as much as the Pachecos do.

In addition to the plant tour, there was also a fun ride and drive event and several displays out in the parking lot. People were able to drive almost anything that General Motors makes on actual public streets, including a CTS-V coupe, a Corvette Grand Sport convertible, a 45th Anniversary Camaro SS, or a Chevy Volt. There really weren't huge crowds out there when we were doing it, and you could test that stuff out without ever having to deal with a salesman.

I hope they have an event like this every year, because it was well worth the time to head over and check it out. It also helps illustrate just how important this facility is to Kansas City, and how significant the automotive manufacturing industry really is.

I took several pictures in and around the plant for the slideshow below, which is unusual for a tour like this because normally cameras are forbidden. I also borrowed a few interior shots from General Motors' media archive, because let's face it, they take much nicer pictures than I do. But I think this will give you an overall feel for what things are like at Fairfax, as well as some of the festivities surrounding the open house. Enjoy!


  1. Neat. Hey, if you think about it, could you give us a 'heads up' next year for this event? You're about 4 1/2 hours away for me, and I think it would be well worth the drive.

  2. I was able to see inside one of the Chrysler plants in Fenton, MO (since closed, alas) about a decade ago. The line was shut down, so they let us take pics--we (HPAC) were there for a car show. It was really cool to see the line--even down--and amazing to see how a pile of parts became the family workhorse minivan!

  3. john - I did include this on the weekly calendar this time, but if they do it next year and I find out about it soon enough I'll try and let you know about it again.

    Observer - Yeah, the logistics of it are mind-boggling to me. You just don't think about what kind of process this is when you're looking at your car out in the driveway.

  4. yeah, but I didnt know it was gonna be this cool prior to your post... 8)