For car enthusiasts, the town of Bowling Green, Kentucky is known for one and only one thing. It’s the home of the Chevrolet Corvette. Since the early 1980s, all Corvettes have been built in GM’s Bowling Green assembly plant, and the 2014 Corvette Stingray is the only car they build there.
So passionate are Corvette fans about the area that there’s a massive National Corvette Museum is just up the road.
If you’re ever passing through, you must take the public tour at the plant. In two amazing hours you’ll see how their 900 employees and contractors take a pile of parts and assemble them into one of the finest sports cars available today. I’ve been through quite a number of personal auto plant tours, but this publically available tour was better than any of them. Although it’s a large plant, the assembly line moves slowly. Today, only 146 cars were scheduled to be built.
Along the way you see all aspects of the car’s production, except for paintwork (which is done in a nearly clean-room environment.) No photos were allowed on the tour, but they have some display cars out front for that.
You might be wondering how I’m going to fit my test Kia into this story. Here’s how: What do the Corvette Stingray and the 2014 Kia Sorento have in common? They’re both built in the southeastern United States by American workers. We’re in a time where the definition of “American” or “foreign” car is unclear (at best.) I’d contend that the Kia Sorento is more of an American car than, for example, a Ram Pickup truck. Ram is produced by Chrysler, which is owned by Italian company Fiat, and the trucks are built in Mexico.
I headed north towards Louisville, Kentucky to visit a different kind of plant. This one makes Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon. Massive in scale, it’s like the Budweiser brewery of the hard liquor world. Once again, I’ve driving, so I didn’t imbibe. I did, however, purchase for later.
I-65 between the two cities is part of the cargo transportation spine of America. If you think you’ve seen heavy truck traffic before, you haven’t seen anything like this. I’d say the ratio of trucks to cars was at least 30 to 1 and you quickly learned to just get out of their way. Many industrial plants now operate with a “just in time” inventory system, so if those trucks don’t arrive precisely on time, the whole plant shuts down.
From there I again turned eastward, crossing the hills of eastern Kentucky and its spectacular display of autumn color. I know they call them mountains, but seriously folks, they’re just hills.
It was almost sunset before the mighty Kia crossed into West Virginia and on through its capitol of Charleston. Then came a long, foggy night drive across the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains (one again, they’re really just big hills) to the small town of Farmville, Virginia. It was the last full day that the boat will be riding on the car, and I’m looking forward to driving without a huge red banana strapped to the roof.
Start: Bowling Green, Kentucky
End: Farmville, Virginia
Total miles: 642
States: Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia
Tomorrow: Raleigh, NC