GM's Tennessee moonshot
Originally, GM proposed $5 billion for the endeavor. But when the industry hit a sales bump in 1986, the corporation trimmed its initial investment to $3.5 billion.
It was still a massive upfront expenditure. And more investment would come later.
Observers and competitors raised their eyebrows at the enormous price tag. But they were also humbled by the General's ability to mount such an expensive and large-scale moonshot to snatch a piece of the small-car market. The program covered challenges that few other automakers ever attempt — let alone attempt on multiple fronts at the same time.
Creating Saturn was an enormous task. It meant:
Researching and conceptualizing a new brand, not merely a new product.
Designing and engineering a series of new cars.
Staffing a new sales and marketing corporation.
Hiring, training and housing dedicated staffs for customer service, dealer relations and product engineering.
Creating a new family of small-displace-ment engines.
Designing and constructing a dedicated manufacturing complex capable of taking the cars from raw materials to finished vehicles.
Creating a supply chain.
Recruiting and coordinating a separate dealer network.
Formulating a new human resources program that required GM to recruit workers from across the United States, retrain them and relocate them to a rural greenfield site in Spring Hill, Tenn.
The Spring Hill assembly plant alone consumed nearly $2 billion of the total tab. The investment included a foundry for engine components, an engine assembly plant, an iron works, an aluminum casting operation and a transmission plant.
GM installed the newest and most promising technologies. Industrial engineers labored over a new approach to aluminum casting that had never been attempted in automotive mass production.
Through the late 1980s, technology suppliers came through Spring Hill in waves to give Saturn edgy new advances in plastics molding, environmentally gentle practices and satellite-based process controls and supply chain communications.
For all that, $3.5 billion may sound like a bargain.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at email@example.com.