Changes at Saturn mean end of 'different kind of company'

Operations technicians Maxine Gilmore, left, and Dwayne Manning, right, work on the Saturn Vue final inspection line at the General Motors Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., on Jan. 21.

Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 11:12 p.m.
NASHVILLE - Saturn, once billed as "a different kind of company" making "a different kind of car," is losing its distinct identity and becoming just another division at General Motors Corp.
GM is forcing Saturn to adopt common practices for design, production and labor, a change that had to happen, analysts say, to cut costs and make Saturn competitive.
Saturn officials are downplaying the changes - "We simply negotiated a new agreement," Saturn spokeswoman Sue Holmgren said - but analysts see it as the end of Saturn as an separate entity.
The Saturn Corp. was an experiment launched in 1990 to compete with low-cost imports like Toyota, Honda and Nissan. All the cars were made in the small town of Spring Hill, about 30 miles south of Nashville, and more importantly, about 500 miles away from Detroit.
The company had its own managers who reported to the Saturn executive board rather than to GM, and the United Auto Workers signed a separate contract with GM to create a cooperative environment between labor and management.
The cars - there was initially only one model - were offered at a fixed price, with no haggling. The company developed a reputation for customer loyalty that rivaled higher-priced brands.
Production of the new minivan will begin next fall, but not in Spring Hill. It will be assembled at a GM's plant in Georgia, using a standard GM frame.
"Flexibility is king," said Mike Wall, an analyst for SCM Worldwide. "You've got to have flexibility of production in the current market. GM isn't turning away from the Saturn brand - it's injecting more flexibility."

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