Join Date: Mar 2001
G.M. Cancels Plan for Saturn Minivan
G.M. Cancels Plan for Saturn Minivan
DETROIT, Nov. 21 — General Motors confirmed Tuesday that it had decided not to build a Saturn minivan that had been tentatively planned for production at its factory in Spring Hill, Tenn., but the company also said it would find a new vehicle for workers to build there.
Union leaders said they feared the factory, where the first Saturn was built, would close next year.
The plant, made famous in television commercials after Saturn was formed in 1990, currently builds the Saturn Ion, which is being discontinued in March, and the Saturn Vue, which is expected to be assembled in Mexico after being redesigned next year.
The minivan’s cancellation marks the third time that G.M. had seemingly promised a new product to the factory only to back out, Mike O’Rourke, president of United Automobile Workers Local 1853 in Spring Hill, wrote in a newsletter to workers Tuesday.
“We are now down to just four months left of production of that same little car we introduced to the world back in 1990 and the reality of facing an indefinite layoff with nothing tangible, nothing that we can place our hands on, just a lot of empty promises from G.M.,” Mr. O’Rourke wrote in the two-page flier, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.
But Tony Cervone, a G.M. spokesman, said Spring Hill was not in danger, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Troy Clarke, G.M.’s president for North America.
“They’re going to get something,” Mr. Cervone said. G.M.’s decision not to build a new minivan at the factory “was not meant as a signal that they were at risk,” he continued.
The U.A.W. president, Ron Gettelfinger, said Tuesday in an online forum at the G.M. Web site that he expected Spring Hill to stay open but offered no specifics. When asked if workers at the plant had a future there, he responded, “Yes. Stay the course. Product announcements are made by the corporation, and we will leave that to them.”
G.M. already had announced that one of its two assembly lines in Spring Hill would shut down as part of the automaker’s restructuring, and many workers agreed to take buyouts when G.M. offered them to its entire hourly work force earlier this year. Those who decided to stay on with the belief that their jobs were secure said they want to hear more definitive plans from their employer.
“We think this is just a way of stalling,” said Richard Benavides, 57, a paint-shop inspector at the factory who has been with G.M. for 35 years. “We’re in limbo. Here we have the holidays coming up and we have no clue what’s coming down the pike.”
Saturn is the only G.M. brand besides Hummer whose sales have increased in 2006. In October, Saturn sold nearly 20 percent more vehicles in October than it did a year ago.
G.M. has high hopes for the new Saturn Aura, a midsize sedan, and the upcoming Saturn Outlook, one of its three new crossover vehicles.
“The Saturn brand is one that we’re incredibly high on,” Mr. Cervone said. “The plan is to grow that brand.”
Mr. Clarke told the Automotive Press Association on Tuesday that G.M. must create more of an emotional identity for its brands, citing Saturn as particularly important to the automaker’s future.
In addition to the Aura, Mr. Clarke said G.M. hoped to recapture more of the important midsize car market — a segment now dominated by Japanese rivals Toyota and Honda — with a redesigned Chevrolet Malibu. The Malibu, which will be introduced at the Detroit auto show in January, features a new upscale interior designed to make the car appear more expensive than it is, he said.
Both the Aura and Malibu are built in Kansas City, Mo.
“G.M. needs to have a strong presence in midsize cars once again,” Mr. Clarke said.