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As Saturn Ends, Its Born Again • December 31, 2004

The following is a story from a Saturn Spring Hill UAW team member who has worked for the company for 14 years.

As 2004 comes to a close, so does Saturn Corporation. As of January 1, 2005 Saturn will just be another General Motors brand, with the Spring Hill manufacturing complex being just an assembly plant that builds Saturn products although two years from now, I'm not sure I'll be even able to say that.

During the past couple of weeks, the reality that everything I have done over the past 14 years is coming to an end, is here. Saturn's Spring Hill plant since February 2004 is not Saturn, its GM Spring Hill Manufacturing. The partnership we had with the local bank ends at the end of the December, as all payroll and benefits will be done at GM facilities. Spring Hill employees will now have to call and wait on the phone to get problems straightened out instead of walking across the street to talk to a real person. We received our GM/UAW International contract books a few weeks ago, because the original Saturn Memo of Agreement ends on December 31, 2004 at 11:59pm.

Saturn as everyone has known it will officially end as 2004 comes to a close.

Things may be changing here in Spring Hill, but I do not regret moving my family down here to take the chance we took. I have had jobs that I would never have been allowed to do in a traditional plant. I've learned more than I ever would have if I stayed at the plant I was working at before. I had a active part in developing and running a manufacturing plant and that is something that will likely never happen again in the ten years that I have left to work before retiring.

Part of what made Saturn so great was the trust management had in UAW employees to help run the plant and develop our product. That was something Saturn fully believed in. While Saturn was Saturn, the company spent a minimum of $75,000 to train me to learn how to run equipment to measure the specifications of a car, so maintenance and engineering folks could be alerted to fix any problems that came up. Part of the training money was spent to teach me how to develop and deliver training to the rest of the employees. I was just one employee of several hundred in positions that had the same type of responsibility as I did. You have to wonder how much of the money that was spent to get Saturn/UAW employees up to speed on this technology is now going to be tossed aside. As we go back under the GM framework, UAW employees will no longer be allowed to work the non-production jobs we had in the past. Except for the few jobs that are allowed by the UAW International Contract, we will all be working on the assembly line with none of the input we had in the past.

Yes, GM did its best at times to cripple Saturn. Though every time they put a bar for us to jump over, we did it. Why? Because both Union and Management had a stake in the outcome. We worked side by side to reach the goals set before us. We shared the ups and downs. The quality of the product was up to all of us. Since we were Saturn though not any longer. GM is at the helm of the brand now; the UAW just put parts on the vehicles. Saturn cars will just be like any other vehicle that a UAW assembler will build. They will just be like the Buick before it, or the Chevy right behind it. Future Saturn vehicles will just be one brand of several built at a GM plant.

With the way Saturn was treated on the corporate level, this change was inevitable. When we started production back in 1990, Saturns were supposed to have styling changes every three years. Well, I don't have to tell anyone that never happened. The S-Series had basically one change in 12 years. These lack of updates to the car, compounded with the lack of new product, pushed the need for change. I hope that GM leadership will do the right thing and give Saturn the products that will give life back to the brand. Cross-platform vehicles are, and can be, completely different from each other. Most of the parts used by each are the chassis, powertrain, and other miscellaneous parts hidden from the customers view (like wire harnesses, regulators, power locks, etc.), while the outside skins and the interior can be completely different. The Saturn Sky and the Chevy Cobalt are two examples of this. The Cobalt is not the same as the Ion, even though both are the same platform. And the pictures of the Sky that we've seen so far indicate that it will be different than the Pontiac Solstice. The new Saturn Relay on the other hand is a rebadged GM product and it shows. I believe things will work out for the Saturn brand only if GM does not rebadge cars and trucks from its other divisions to make new Saturn products.

Saturn seems to now be finally getting the funds from GM to create a product line that it has been lacking in the past. The employees who gave up everything they had to move to Spring Hill and create Saturn will still have jobs in the future. Our leadership knows what products are coming to Spring Hill after the Vue and Ion complete their run, but as with all future GM products, they cannot tell us any news just yet. We have no information other than that the plant will be running in a capacity that will keep us employed for at least 15 years after the Vue and Ion have left Tennessee.

We played the best hand we could with the cards GM dealt us. We may not have won the game, but we have changed some things in the automotive world, so I believe part of Saturn's mission was a success. We have returned what we learned from the grand Saturn experiment to the rest of GM, although the competition was watching and learning from us too. Hopefully we have made the automotive industry better in the long run.

Those of us who took the chance to give birth to Saturn, do appreciate all of you who bought the cars and SUVs we have built over the past 14 years. We may not have the same control over how things are built anymore, but I can say that Spring Hill will continue to build our products to as high a standard as we can. We may no longer be "Saturn" after January 1st, but that will never change on how the Spring Hill employees feel about the product we ship out the door.

Want more information?

Source: Spring Hill UAW Team Member

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