When Ray Carcione was young, cars shimmered with a lot of chrome. Wheels, hood ornaments, fenders, grills, trim. Chrome decorated headlights, tail lights, tailfins and mirrors. Vehicles rolling out of Detroit absolutely shimmered with pizzazz and radiance.
For today’s car owners, “The last, little bling you can get on a car is a chrome wheel, ” Carcione says.
And that’s where his company, Kentucky Chrome Works, comes in.
Based in Horse Cave, Kentucky Chrome Works produces decorative chrome plating for the automotive industry. It supplies its services primarily to two wheel manufacturers, Wanfeng and SL Wheels via Innovative Metal Finishing in Wadsworth, Ohio, but also has an after-market business.
Cars eventually lost that chrome and now “everything is either painted or plastic, ” says Carcione, owner and president of Kentucky Chrome Works. Chrome wheels are “aesthetic, shiny. Some people want a little bit of shiny-ness. It does add glamour to a car.”
That eye-catching bling manufactured at his facility ends up mostly on Corvettes, going from the Horse Cave plant to the Corvette plant in nearby Bowling Green. But KCW also ships to Detroit for wheels that end up on large GM vehicles like the Yukon.
Two years ago, Kentucky Chrome Works was doing about 1, 000 wheels a week for the Corvettes. Then the company started expanding, and grew to the point where it does “about 2, 500 wheels a week right now, ” Carcione says.
Terry Martin, Hart County judge executive, says the business and Carcione have invested millions of dollars in Hart County.
“Kentucky Chrome Works have tripled their workforce in Hart County with more room for expansion in the future, ” says Martin, who is the head of the county’s executive branch.
Recently, Kentucky Chrome Works picked up additional business making motorcycle wheels. The company could manage an additional 1, 000 wheels a week, Carcione says, but that would bring it to capacity.
From start to finish, KCW works to ensure that the completed product meets automotive OEM standards. Carcione says his 120 employees have a wealth of buffing and polishing expertise, along with 200 combined years of plating experience.
As a Tier II supplier, Kentucky Chrome Works gets wheels from manufacturers who have orders from GM, Chrysler and other automakers, Carcione says. “When they need a wheel chromed, we get the raw wheel in. We glass wheels with a patented peening process.”
Employees sand the surface of the wheel with three different grits of sandpaper. Then the wheel is copper plated “to help level the wheel out even more.” All wheels are copper buffed robotically and plated with four different nickels and then plated with chrome.
In addition to the work done for original manufacturers, Kentucky Chrome Works also has an after-market business.
“We do a little work for dealers, ” Carcione says. “Most don’t offer chrome wheel as an option for their customer. So if their customer wants chrome, the dealer goes to after-market. They can send us the painted wheels that are on the vehicle.”
A KCW employee strips the paint off and the chrome-plate process begins. Currently, Kentucky Chrome Works provides that service for Blue Grass MotorSport in Louisville.
Among vehicles that sport its chrome wheels are Ford, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Range Rover, Chrysler, BMW, Jaguar and Rolls Royce.
Kentucky Chrome Works wheels have a five-year warranty. And what can customers expect to pay for those chrome wheels when added as an option from the manufacturer?
“It’s not cheap, I’ll just put it that way, ” Carcione says, estimating the option adds $3, 000 to $5, 000 to the cost of a new vehicle.
While Kentucky Chrome Works is not the only company in North America that chromes wheels for OEMs, it is the only supplier that is in high-production. The only other high-production supplier is in China, Carcione says.
In December 2009, Carcione and partners formed Kentucky Chrome Works LLC, and provided metal finishing services to Wanfeng and SL Wheels via Innovative Metal Finishing of Wadsworth, Ohio.
He was approached by SL Wheels to expand services to include chrome plating of luxury alloy wheels. Later, he purchased Ken-Dec Inc., of Horse Cave. And in January 2010, KCW commenced the design and installation of a new wheel plating line.
Kentucky Chrome Works is an active community partner, says Virginia Davis, executive director of the Hart County Chamber of Commerce. In 2012, it was named the Hart County Business of the Year.
In addition, in February the company received the New Campaign Partner of the Year Award from United Way.
“The Company plays an integral role in our efforts to build a better future for the people living and working in Hart County, ” Davis says.
Tammy Leytham is freelance writer for Southern Automotive Alliance.
Text by Tammy Leytham // Photos By Aaron Borton