BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Gene Taglialavore grinned like a kid on Christmas morning as he watched his wife settle into the driver’s seat of the couple’s new cranberry red Chevy Corvette.
The sleek sports car will be the New Orleans native’s 11th Corvette and will replace the one he lost to the floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina. Taglialavore bought his first one more than 40 years ago. ‘
‘It’s just something that gets in your blood: the speed and power, the handling,’’ said Taglialavore, 64, who picked up the car in May at the National Corvette Museum, across the street from the plant where the car was assembled in this western Kentucky city located 60 miles north of Nashville, Tenn.
‘‘There’s nothing like a Corvette,’’ he said. ‘‘This thing will do almost anything you want. To own one of these things, you’re a little bit different from everybody else. Anybody can drive a 4-door sedan. It’s about standing out.’’
The only factory in the world that builds the iconic sports car, General Motors’ Bowling Green plant rolled out its first Corvette in Kentucky 25 years ago on June 1, 1981. Industry analysts say the plant remains a bright spot for General Motors Corp. at a time when sagging sales have led the automaker to eliminate 30,000 U.S. hourly jobs by 2008 as part of a massive restructuring plan. About 35,000 Corvettes are assembled at the plant each year — a small fraction of the 9 million vehicles GM is expected to produce worldwide this year.
But the Corvette — which sells for around $50,000 — is not intended to make piles of money, but instead to create a brand identity and to lure customers into Chevy dealerships to buy other vehicles, said David Healy, an analyst with New York-based Burnham Securities.
‘‘It’s microscopic, but it does the job as a marketing tool for Chevy,’’ Healy said. ‘‘Indirectly it makes money because it gives cachet to Chevy, which otherwise might suffer from lack of charisma.”
Now plant workers are putting in a lot of overtime because of the Corvette’s popularity, said the plant’s union president, Eldon Renaud.