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Factory ZERO: People and Products For the Future

December 6, 2023

View the session recording below.

The motto of Factory ZERO, General Motors’ first fully dedicated electric vehicle (EV) assembly plant, is “zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion.” Leading this mission is Plant Director, Cathy Staelgraeve, a third-generation GM employee with nearly 30 years of plant experience.

Originally opened in 1985, spanning the Detroit-Hamtramck border, and rededicated in 2020, Factory ZERO provides jobs to over 2,000 employees that manufacture seven vehicle styles and the Ultium battery pack. Since 2013, it has received $2.7 billion of investment, which allowed the complete renovation of the 4.5 million-square-foot facility. Staelgraeve shared that the company chose this established site instead of going elsewhere because “it was a third of a less capital. In a capital-rich industry such as the automotive industry, it makes sense for us to save a little bit and use this site that was ready for us to transform.”

When it comes to producing EVs in comparison to those with an internal combustion engine (ICE), Factory ZERO is unique in its use of a Rechargeable Energy Storage System (RESS), a replacement for the dirtier and less desirable aspects of a traditional ICE manufacturing job. Staelgraeve said that although certain aspects have been automated, it has not reduced the number of jobs it provides, assuring everyone, “there are still plenty of opportunities for people to work within General Motors, at an EV plant, and at Factory ZERO.”

The location of Factory ZERO within the U.S. is no accident. The investment was an intentional effort to gain greater market share in an area where they expect the most EV growth in 2025. Another aspect of Michigan’s electric future that GM is focused on is getting customers to be eager and willing to adopt this technology. One way is by promoting the installation of at-home charging stations, which are not only convenient for powering the vehicle but also have the potential to be used as a generator to power the home.

In her own experience driving the electric Hummer truck, she says, “I don’t have to do anything special on a regular basis to charge my product. I charge it at home; I charge it at work. It’s all good and easy.” Even on a recent road trip, she found level 3 chargers in abundance. She’s not the only Factory ZERO employee having fun testing out these new products. The whole team is encouraged to try them out for themselves, as well.

The production team at Factory ZERO is actively supported with upgraded workplaces, tuition reimbursement, and technical training opportunities, an integrated team, and the ability to apply for other open positions within the company. GM also supports the community outside of the factory, having committed $50 million to area nonprofits to date. In addition, employees volunteered over 1,800 hours in 2022. When it comes to fostering and encouraging the next generation of talent, she said, “If you like people, if you like problems, if you like being a part of something greater than yourself, working in manufacturing is a daily reward for all of those areas.”