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Engines made in Tonawanda will power new 'value' Corvette

General Motors President Mark Reuss is fired up about the sales prospects for the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

And each vehicle sold will be powered by an engine from GM's Tonawanda plant.

"We have pre-orders being generated on the internet right now," Reuss said. "We don't even have a count. This is a big deal. And to do a mid-engine supercar under $60,000, there were gasps in the crowd that night" of the product announcement.

The Tonawanda engine plant already produces engines for the current line of Corvettes, and the continuation of that arrangement is good news for the local factory as it competes with other GM facilities for investment and new products even as the automaker closes other plants. GM last year won an important new product line to make engines for the popular Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.

"Every new product we get is really important," said Ram Ramanujam, the plant director.

GM's plant in Lockport will also supply components for the new Corvette.

In the revamped Corvette, the 6.2-liter, small-block V-8 engine will move to the middle of the vehicle, from the front. Production is set to begin later this year at a GM assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky.

GM unveiled the new-look, mid-engine Corvette at a splashy event last week in California. On Tuesday, Reuss visited the Tonawanda plant to hail the facility's contribution to the new vehicle's production, amid the clamor of a manufacturing complex.

Charlie Galante, a program safety lead at the Tonawanda Engine Plant, behind the new Corvette Stingray engine. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

"This plant has a deep history of small block [engines], big block [engines], you name it, on our most-profitable, highest-quality vehicles, and have the heart of the powertrain from right here in Tonawanda," Reuss said.

The Tonawanda site has about 1,500 employees. Three years ago, GM pledged to invest about $300 million in the River Road complex for future engine production.

GM announced earlier this year that it would add a second shift and over 400 jobs at its Bowling Green plant to support production of the next-generation Corvette. The Bowling Green site has assembled more than 1 million Corvettes since opening in 1981.

"We don't know how many we're going to make yet a year, because we're doing a pre-order right now," Reuss said.

The Corvette was designed as a show car for the 1953 New York Auto Show, but it generated so much interest that it was put into production, according to GM. The current seventh-generation version of the Corvette was unveiled in 2013.

The new Corvette has generated buzz at a time when the U.S. new-vehicle market has tilted heavily toward sales of trucks and SUVs. "It's really the value piece of it, and the performance, and the interior quality," Reuss said of the new Corvette's appeal. "It's the whole package."

Last year, the GM Tonawanda plant produced about 650,000 engines.

The Tonawanda plant is preparing to make the new Corvette engine as negotiations get under way between GM and the United Auto Workers on a new labor contract. Their current deal expires in September.

"The UAW as a whole, we have strong membership in Western New York," said Jose Gonzalez, acting chairman of UAW Local 774.

"This being a contract year, it's very important to show the strength of our membership," Gonzalez said. "We came down here not only to support the fact that we make the best engines, but to showcase what we do here with our long-standing tradition."

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