Since its 1990 startup, Saturn Corp. has almost always run overtime to satisfy demand.
Now the carmaker is cutting back.
Sales have softened recently and inventories have risen for the small-car line.
Saturn decided in May to discontinue overtime at its Spring Hill, Tenn., factory. April sales dipped 8.9 percent from a year earlier, and on May 1, the company had an 88-day supply of Saturns - compared with a 42-day supply in May 1996. The industry generally prefers a 60- to 65-day supply.
NO SATURN SPIFFS
Bob Boruff, Saturn vice president of manufacturing, said that although Saturn's inventories are high, the company has a chance to cut costs in a fiercely competitive car market. Unlike other car makes, he said, Saturn does not offer customer or dealer incentives to boost sales during slow times.
Overtime had become routine among the 8,000 factory workers. The plant often added extra half-hours to its shifts to goose production.
Last year, the plant ran seven-day weeks after a supplier strike interrupted production. Saturn workers even agreed to holiday production.
All of that cost Saturn time-and-a-half on wages. Now that inventories are backing up, Saturn sees a chance to eliminate that cost, Boruff said.
'We're trying to come up with ways to help cut costs,' said Dora Mack, spokeswoman for Saturn's UAW Local 1853. 'Back at GM, you know what would happen right now - layoffs.'
BACK TO NORMAL
The plant has returned to its normal schedule. Employees work four 10-hour days a week. The factory will continue to rotate three crews, meaning that the plant still operates six days a week.
Even with the cutback, Spring Hill will turn out as many cars this year as last, Boruff said. Last year, the plant built 314,000 coupes, sedans and wagons. This year, the factory is on pace to turn out about 314,000.
The increase will come from new efficiencies built into the operation over the past year. The coupes and sedans now share more parts, making the cars somewhat easier to build.
For the first four months of this year, Saturn sales were down by 6.9 percent.
In April, Saturn also launched its long-awaited right-hand-drive export program to Japan. That campaign is expected to consume several hundred cars a month.
The General Motors subsidiary is studying a plan to sell cars in Korea.