SPRING HILL, Tenn. - General Motors Corp. launched the Saturn brand at its plant in the tiny Tennessee town of Spring Hill nearly 17 years ago.
Designed to compete with low-cost Japanese imports, Saturn prided itself on its no-haggle approach to selling cars and initially developed a cult following, which included carnival-like "homecoming" celebrations in Spring Hill for Saturn owners.
But this week, the brand's birthplace rolled out its last models for the Saturn brand as the plant gets ready to reconfigure its production lines to build new GM vehicles.
Close to 2,400 of the plant's nearly 4,700 workers are being laid off for about 18 months while the plant is remodeled, though GM has promised to bring the workers back once the facility is equipped to produce other GM vehicles.
GM executives and union officials from Detroit on Thursday met with employees at the company's plant and assured them the plant will get a new vehicle to build, said GM spokeswoman Kate Neary.
The GM officials told workers the product will be a Chevrolet crossover vehicle, according to sources familiar with the meeting who requested anonymity because the automaker hasn't yet officially announced its plans.
Troy Clarke, GM's North American president, and Tim Lee, GM vice president for manufacturing and labor relations, attended the meeting along with Cal Rapson, vice president of the United Auto Workers union.
In December GM said it would invest about $225 million in Spring Hill's paint shop as part of its plans to build a new product.
State economic development officials and GM officials said this week they're still negotiating on a tax incentive package for the improvements.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen issued a statement on Thursday stating that he was "pleased by General Motors' decision to make this significant investment in the future of the Spring Hill plant and its Tennessee employees."
United Auto Workers Local 1853 Chairman Mike Herron said employees are looking forward to building a new product at the plant.
"Anytime you have change, that's going to cause a little bit of anxiety or concern because it's different and new," said Herron.
"It's the first time we've faced something like this. You'd have to be emotionless not to at least go through some emotions ... seeing the last Saturns being built.
"But I think all the workers out there are confident that they're going to be coming back and there's going to be a next new product."
Saturn workers who are laid off will receive about 80 percent of their net pay, along with unemployment payments from the state, according to GM.
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