Saturn Today—and Yesterday
In looking for some information to write about the General Motors Spring Hill Engine Plant—a plant that GM has invested $460-million in so that it has the wherewithal to produce 2.5-liter Ecotec engines that have their first application in the 2013 Chevy Malibu—I found a link on an old GM press release that said I could find more information at saturnmedia.com.
So I clicked.
And I discovered that an outfit called “vipbroker.com” has that domain name for sale.
I don’t know if that says something about GM or about media websites.
But I do know that it says something about what was once Saturn Corp.
Ecotec engine build expertise at Spring Hill
While it is a great thing that the Saturn site is where engines (and soon vehicles) are being produced, I think back to the late ‘80s, having the opportunity to visit what was yet-to-be a manufacturing complex. I will never forget walking through a factory that was nearly finished and nearly empty, but as we walked way back into a corner of the plant, there was a roboticized diecasting cell. Back then the “offices” were trailers. It was a big bet on behalf of all involved. Or so it was construed back then.
The facility opened in 1990 and Saturn became a phenomenon. There were the Saturn Homecomings, sort of a Woodstock for owners of such things as SL1s and SL2s. People actually went within the white picket fence that surrounded the property and got married there.
The Saturn Welcome Center from back in the day
The Saturn models were not all that good. Full disclosure: I went out and bought one, primarily because I thought it was a wonderful technical experiment (think: polymer panels almost all around (horizontal panels were metal because otherwise they would sag).
Even though the cars were underpowered and noisy, that really didn’t matter much to many of the people who owned them. They formed an unofficial Saturn Nation. General Motors had nothing like it. Perhaps one could cite the analogous support of the Corvette, but given that the Saturns had an affordability in a different strata, its support was all the more surprising in many ways.
1998 Saturn SL2
But then the decision was made to “commonize’ things, so the plastic panels gave way to sheet steel. And when the bankruptcy came up, Saturn went down.
And I think that the communization and the elimination are two big mistakes that GM has made. It makes a whole lot of cars that are simply transportation. People don’t buy them because they are perceived as being something special. They fulfill a need. Sure, they may be attractive. They may be reliable. They are produced with quality. They contain all of the latest infotainment systems.
But they don’t have the charm that Saturn had.
You can’t buy that. It has to just happen. They had lightning in a bottle. And they opened the lid and turned in the bottle.
Magna is an automotive supplier. But it is a Tier One supplier unlike many others.
From the point of view of structural engineering and assembly, electric vehicles are a whole lot simpler than those with internal combustion engines, which probably goes a long way to explain why there are so many startups showing EVs.
I'm not talking about a plastic Revell model of a '57 Chevy, but a real vehicle, one that rolls off an assembly line in 1999 with another 99,999 just like it right behind. Is it possible, or is this just a fantasy of the marketing department at Elmer's?