Good-bye Saturn

Saturn’s hometown stunned as car company calls it quits

 

By Aaron Cooper

CNN

SPRING HILL, Tennessee (CNN) — The town that Saturn put on the map is

worrying about its future, and hoping its giant auto plant and jobs won’t go

the way of its most famous product.

General Motors announced this week that it would close its Saturn line

after a sale to Penske Automotive Group fell through.

At the end of “Saturn Parkway” in Spring Hill sits the huge plant where

— as the ads touted — “a different kind of car company” produced a “different

kind of car.”

The first Saturn, a red S-Series, rolled off the line in 1990. The

factory, the town, and its workers have played a major role in the company’s

image and advertisements, even hosting tours and “reunions” for Saturn car

owners.

There is a community pride attached to Saturn. That first car is still at

the factory — now on prominent display in the visitor’s center. In city hall,

the walls are decorated with old photos of the small town that Spring Hill was

before Saturn came to town.

“I think people are very proud an American-made car was made here,” said

resident Barbara Williams.

Mayor Mike Dinwiddie credits a lot of that growth to the Saturn plant.

“GM back in the mid 80s is the reason this town began to grow in the

first place” he said.

Eventually, however, GM decided to move production elsewhere. The last

Saturn made in Tennessee rolled off the line in 2007. After retooling, GM

started building the Chevrolet Traverse in Spring Hill, but that production is

on its way out, too.

In November, it will be moved to a plant in Michigan, leaving Spring

Hill’s plant idle.

The move to shut down Saturn has left some in town disappointed and

perplexed.

“It’s been a great car,” said Keith Slep, who runs an auto repair shop a

few miles from the factory. He had hoped Penske would make the car work because

“he has a track record that won’t quit of being a great business man and a good

leader. I don’t know what happened.”

Barbara Williams, who was eating lunch in a Spring Hill park with her

granddaughter, had the same question.

“I’m like everyone else, how can this happen? GM has been a forerunner in

the automobile industry, and it’s just a really sad indictment on what is

happening,” Williams said.

The mayor said the proposed plans are close to where Saturn was decades

ago.

“We are kind of curious as to why the decisions have been made that have

been made …,” Dinwiddie said. “I do know that what GM is trying to do now as a

company, as far as how they are trying to operate and what they are saying,

the improvements they need to make almost mirror what Saturn was 20 years ago.”

Resident Joyce Avello said the federal government is to blame.

“It’s an abomination what the government is doing to the automotive

industry … Get it out of the government’s hands. They don’t know how to do

cars. They can hardly do the government.”

Dinwiddie is optimistic about the future of Spring Hill.

“I have to believe the plant is going to come back. It all depends on the

overall economy,” he said. “I hope that Americans start buying American

products and start supporting the American auto manufacturing industry, and if

that happens we’ll get a product in this plant.”

Dinwiddie said he has been working with General Motors on a daily basis,

and has invited the president and the auto recovery czar to come and tour the

plant.

“I don’t think they understand what this plant is capable of doing, and

once they see that, I think that they will be well aware of the situation and I

think they could probably give us some help,” he said.

G.W. Bowman, 94, has lived in Spring Hill most of his life and remembers

stories of his grandfather collecting the mail in the area during the Civil

War.

With Saturn gone and the local plant preparing to idle, he said, the city

is reeling.

“Of course it’s going to hurt, but it’s not going to kill Spring Hill,”

Bowman said. “Spring Hill was here a long time before they came in.”

TM & © 2009 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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