OPINION: How about Saturn in Blue Springs?

Here’s a crazy idea: Let’s build Toyota-made, Saturn-badged vehicles in Blue Springs.
But first, a little background before explaining my crazy idea.
In the early 1980s, when Toyota was looking to establish a firmer foothold in the U.S. auto market, it found a willing partner in General Motors.
Together they built and ran New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. in Fremont, Calif., a joint venture that the automakers said would benefit both companies.
GM learned valuable lessons about the Toyota Production System, Toyota learned valuable lessons about marketing and American manufacturing and management.
But that joint venture ended recently. GM, because of its bankruptcy and government takeover, had to cut costs drastically, and NUMMI was a victim. Toyota decided it didn’t want to run the plant on its own, either.
NUMMI was important for Toyota, helping it set the stage for building its first U.S. plant, in Georgetown, Ky., in 1986.
It was about this time that GM decided to go into a whole new direction with a car company that was going to be like no other in its stable.
Saturn, billed as “a different kind of car company,” was unveiled in November 1983 but didn’t officially launch until 1990. Saturn was GM’s answer to the wave of imports that was slowly but surely eroding its market share.
Saturns were sold with a no-haggle pricing model. High-pressure sales were a no-no. It was nothing like GM had ever done before.
The company attracted quite a loyal following, but it never made any money. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Saturn became just another GM brand. New models in recent years brought back some excitement, but it wasn’t enough.
After GM’s implosion, it said it would shed Saturn.
In came Roger Penske, who struck a tentative deal in June with GM to take the brand off its hands. GM would make the cars until 2011, when another automaker would make Saturns for the Penske-owned brand.
But that deal fell through last week and GM said it would move immediately to shutter Saturn.
So why not have Toyota build Saturn in Blue Springs?
Penske and GM could work out a deal with Toyota so that it would benefit everybody.
Take a current Toyota model or two, revise them, stamp a Saturn badge on them and, presto, we have Saturns.
Penske was negotiating with other automakers to make Saturns. If he could talk to Renault, why not Toyota?
The Blue Springs plant doesn’t have any equipment in it and it’s all but ready to begin producing vehicles. Suppliers are waiting on the wings, too. Thousands of Northeast Mississippi workers are willing to be trained and working there, too.
I know it’s a totally off-the-wall idea that probably has little merit or support. I’m sure our friends at Toyota Mississippi are getting a good chuckle, too.
So, Gov. Barbour, if you’re reading this while you’re in Japan and visiting Toyota, maybe mention this crazy idea.
Or not.
But hey, Saturn is – or was – “a different kind of car company.”
Why not make it applicable for Blue Springs?

Contact Dennis Seid at dennis.seid@djournal.com or at (662) 678-1578.

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

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