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  Home : Company : 2007 : End of an Era: Spring Hill Builds Last Polymer-Clad Saturn  [ Forward ]

End of an Era: Spring Hill Builds Last Polymer-Clad Saturn
SaturnFans.com • April 2, 2007

Since 1990, the former Saturn manufacturing facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee helped not only build millions of cars, but also the brand's folksy, people-friendly image. In the early days, Spring Hill workers earned a reputation of being happy, caring employees. The plant hosted two Saturn Homecomings in 1994 and 1999. Workers were often seen smiling and waiving to wide-eyed visitors on daily tours at the plant. But last week the plant built its last Saturn, and most of the facility closed to be retooled.

Sources tell SaturnFans.com that on Thursday, March 29th, Spring Hill built its last Saturn Ion. One day later, the last Vue rolled off the line.

"I think it's a good thing," site manager Harvey Thomas told USA Today. "We're going to retool the plant to build any kind of vehicle GM wants us to build." When the plant reopens in about 18 months, GM told workers will not be building new Saturns, but a large Chevrolet crossover instead. Production of GM's Ecotec four-cylinder engines will continue while the rest of the plant is gutted and rebuilt.

"Saturn did a very un-Saturn thing last week: It shut down its factory here for retooling," wrote Automotive News in an article published today. "Back in 1996, Saturn broke ground for General Motors when it showed the automaker how to execute its first rolling model change. Former Saturn engineers are still teaching the practice around GM today. Spring Hill was built to emulate GM's efficient Japanese competitors, who routinely switch models without stopping the assembly line. Detroit 3 factories typically had shut down for weeks to prepare for new models."

Why such as long shutdown for this "flexible" plant? In a word, plastic. Saturn's trademark plastic polymer body-side panels require a unique production setup that is different that what is used in other GM plants. All future Saturns will feature tight-fitting steel panels. "That means we've got to completely rebuild the production system here to be able to make steel-bodied vehicles," said United Auto Workers Local 1853 Chairman Mike Herron in Automotive News. "It was just too much to do while normal production is still going on."

According to USA Today, in the last week plant officials hosted pizza parties and encouraged employees to bring cameras to work and take pictures for employee memory books. Its rare in this day and age of global manufacturing for a plant to appeal to customers in the same way that Spring Hill has for Saturn over 16 years. Folks travelled from around the world to see what made Saturn so special. "Anytime you have change, that's going to cause a little bit of anxiety or concern because it's different and new," Herron told the newspaper. "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."

Spring Hill, thanks for the Saturn memories.

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Source: Automotive News, USA Today

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