Monday, January 01, 2007

Saturn plant in line for makeover

Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Saturn plant in line for makeover
GM wants to spend $225M on upgrades but project would close Tenn. plant and lay off workers.
Scott Burgess / The Detroit News

General Motors Corp. will invest $225 million to upgrade the paint shop at its Saturn factory in Spring Hill, Tenn., to prepare for future vehicle production, the automaker said Monday.

The renovation, which would close the plant for several months, depends on securing an incentive package from Tennessee. The plant opened in 1990 when the Saturn brand was launched.

About 3,500 United Auto Workers union members and 230 salaried employees work at the Spring Hill plant, according to GM.

"This project is instrumental to GM's efforts to strengthen its core manufacturing capabilities in the United States," Tim Lee, GM vice president for manufacturing and labor relations, said in a statement.

Troy Clarke, president for GM North America, said last month that the company wasn't planning to shutter the Spring Hill plant.

GM said it has not decided when production would resume at Spring Hill or how long employees would be out of work once they are laid off in April.

GM recently killed a minivan project planned for Spring Hill, which left local United Auto Workers leaders unsure of whether the plant had a future as GM moves to close factories and cut jobs in its restructuring.

The plant now makes the Saturn Ion sedan and the Saturn Vue sport utility vehicle. GM will end production of the Ion in March and move Vue production to Mexico. Last week, GM confirmed that Saturn will import the compact Astra from a facility in Belgium. The Astra, from GM's German Opel unit, will replace the Ion.

The plant has been an anomaly within GM since Saturn was launched in 1990 to compete with low-cost imports like Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

The brand had its own managers who reported to the Saturn executive board rather than to GM, and the UAW signed a separate contract with GM to create a cooperative environment between labor and management.

Three years ago, GM reintegrated Saturn back into the company, with assurances that the Tennessee plant would remain open.

UAW leaders were riled after GM pulled the minivan project, but were pleased with Monday's announcement. UAW Local 1853 Chairman Mike Herron said that GM also plans to retool the plant to allow it to build more kinds of vehicles off a variety of platforms.

"Team members here understand very clearly that a short-term downtime like this will allow the infrastructure to be installed and will secure the future for the next decade," Herron said. "That's a very good trade-off."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Scott Burgess at (313)223-3217 or

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


Post a Comment

<< Home