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Birthplace of Saturn brand prepares for new era at GM | ajc.com

Associated Press

Published on: 03/31/07

Spring Hill, Tenn. —- General Motors Corp. launched the Saturn brand at its

plant in the tiny Tennessee town of Spring Hill nearly 17 years ago.

Designed to compete with low-cost Japanese imports, Saturn prided itself on its

no-haggle approach to selling cars and initially developed a cult following,

which included carnival-like "homecoming" celebrations in Spring Hill for Saturn


But this week, the brand's birthplace rolled out its last models for the Saturn

brand as the plant gets ready to reconfigure its production lines to build new

GM vehicles.

Close to 2,400 of the plant's nearly 4,700 workers are being laid off for about

18 months while the plant is remodeled, though GM has promised to bring the

workers back once the facility is equipped to produce other GM vehicles.

GM executives and union officials from Detroit met with employees at the plant

Thursday and assured them they will get a new vehicle to build, GM spokeswoman

Kate Neary said.

The GM officials told workers the product will be a Chevrolet crossover vehicle.

Troy Clarke, GM's North American president, and Tim Lee, GM vice president for

manufacturing and labor relations, attended the meeting along with Cal Rapson,

vice president of the United Auto Workers union.

State economic development and GM officials said this week they're still

negotiating on a tax incentive package for the plant improvements.

Employees upbeat

UAW Local 1853 Chairman Mike Herron said employees are looking forward to

building a new product at the plant.

"Anytime you have change, that's going to cause a little bit of anxiety or

concern because it's different and new," Herron said. "It's the first time we've

faced something like this. You'd have to be emotionless not to at least go

through some emotions ... seeing the last Saturns being built.

"But I think all the workers out there are confident that they're going to be

coming back, and there's going to be a next new product."

Saturn workers who are laid off will receive about 80 percent of their net pay,

along with unemployment payments from the state, according to GM.

Herron said he and many other workers at the facility have worked there since

1990 when the plant produced its first vehicle, the Saturn S-Series sedan.

The S-Series, which also included coupe and wagon models, was produced at the

plant through 2002, when S-Series production stopped and Saturn launched the Ion

sedan and the Vue small sport utility vehicle.

Production of the Ion ended Wednesday, and the plant rolled out its last Vue on


Charita Tweedy, 47, a lifelong GM employee who moved to the Spring Hill plant

from Flint, Mich., in 1991, said she planned to do more volunteer charity work

while she's off and is not concerned GM won't have a job for her after the plant

is remodeled.

"Something's going to happen," said Tweedy, who made $26 an hour assembling

Ions. "I have confidence in this place. I believe something is going to be here

sooner or later."

Changing tastes

When GM started building cars in this sleepy farming town, the Saturn plant was

touted as a key component of the automaker's vision for the future.

But as a result of stiffer competition, changing consumer tastes and rising

labor costs, GM launched a restructuring plan over a year ago that called for

closing 12 plants by 2008 and cutting structural costs. Those changes also

changed the mission at the Spring Hill plant.

The world's largest automaker slashed 35,000 —- or nearly one-third —- of its

U.S. hourly workers in 2006 through buyouts and early retirement deals so that

it can compete more effectively with Asian automakers.

Detroit-based GM reported a 2006 fourth-quarter net profit of $950 million, but

the company still lost $2 billion for the year. It also lost $10.4 billion in


Saturn once billed itself as "a different kind of company" making "a different

kind of car," but after a promising start, it let the cars' looks and technology

get stale.


Drive your car.

Use your cell phone.


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