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Saturday, November 26, 2005 Print this Comment on this E-mail this Spring Hill plant's survival depends on GM bringing changes Facility is shutting down Saturn Ion production, but expects to reconfigure for new product line By Beth Rucker / Associated Press NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The General Motors Corp. Spring Hill manufacturing plant will survive if the company makes good on its promise to employees to bring in a new product line -- one that likely won't be a Saturn, analysts said. GM announced earlier this week that it will cut 30,000 jobs and close nine assembly, stamping and powertrain plants and three parts facilities. The line in Spring Hill producing the Saturn Ion compact car will shut down in 2006, a move that could eliminate 1,500 jobs. But GM officials have promised union leaders and plant workers that Spring Hill will be part of the company's future plans as it reworks and retools in an effort to cut losses. GM lost almost $4 billion in the first nine months of this year. "We knew we were going to be making the switch from plastics to steel," said Mike O'Rourke, president of United Auto Workers Local 1853 in Spring Hill. "The future is bright at this plant." Throughout its 15-year existence, the lines at the plant have been configured to produce the plastic-paneled Saturns, such as the current Ion and sport-utility Vue models. Reconfiguring to steel would make the lines capable of producing a non-Saturn GM product. That's all part of GM's plan to get plants operating at 100 percent capacity -- a plan that's been in the works for a number of years, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. Cole said he believes GM will do what it has promised Spring Hill. "What GM is doing right now is dramatically increasing the interchangeability of their products," he said in a telephone interview earlier this week. "When you've made a huge investment in the plants, you want them to operate at 100 percent capacity." The changes will mean weakened ties to the Saturn brand name that Spring Hill has come to identify with. The Ion model, as well as future Saturn models, will most likely be produced at other GM plants around the country, Cole said. Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber said he has been in contact with GM executives almost daily this month, and he and Gov. Phil Bredesen have visited executives in Detroit to lobby for GM to lobby for Spring Hill. "I feel very good that Spring Hill is going to be a part of GM's future," Kisber said. "We're trying to discover what it takes to bring a non-Saturn product to Spring Hill. We've made it very clear that we stand ready to work with them." Kisber said the plant remains a leader for GM because of its powertrain assembly and its modern paint shop. Saturn was launched as an experiment in 1990 to compete with low-cost imports like Toyota, Honda and Nissan. 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. That separate identity is no longer needed, Cole said, because GM has absorbed the successful practices, Cole said. "It served its mission in that respect; it became a sort of prototype," he said. "The idea of keeping Saturn a totally separate entity doesn't make sense anymore."

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Bean counters ... those guys who we blame for every radio knob that doesn't please us our responsible for the meme that Saturn has lost money every year of its existance (even in 1994 when production couldn't meet demand). Accountants have many tricks. I wonder now that Saturn will be "selling" back to GM its production facility, will they change the claim of Saturns proftiability. Probably not.

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