The new chief of Saturn Corp. garnered national headlines last week because she is a woman.
But more significant for Saturn is that she's a factory rat.
When Cynthia Trudell, 45, moves in as chairman and president of the General Motors subsidiary on Jan. 1, she will signal a new era at Saturn. For several years, Saturn's challenges have been primarily in sales and marketing: how to survive as a small-car producer in an era of shrinking small-car sales; how to export; how to keep up dealer margins amid falling sales; how to maintain brand value; how to protect its retail strength against the rise of publicly traded retailers.
LONG MISSION LIST
But with the departure of President and Chairman Don Hudler, 64 - who has spent 42 years selling and marketing Cadillacs, Opels and Saturns - Saturn's pendulum is swinging back to the factory. Saturn, which has run for eight years on a single line of small cars, is ready to expand.
Trudell has a long list of factory-oriented missions. She must:
Expand Saturn's Spring Hill, Tenn., factory. The plant currently is building 275,000 cars a year. Plans announced in late September call for boosting production to 500,000.
Begin production of the L-series sedan next year at a GM factory in Wilmington, Del. Trudell was general manager of the plant in 1995 and 1996, when Saturn was considering whether Wilmington's work force could mesh with Saturn's team approach to building cars.
Take a new Saturn compact sport-utility from design to market.
Trudell is now president of IBC Vehicles of Luton, England, a GM-owned venture formed with Isuzu Motors Ltd. Her job there since 1996 has been to produce the European Frontera sport-utility, based on the U.S.-built Isuzu Rodeo.
Expand production and oversee the redesign of Saturn's powertrain. Saturn builds its own engines and transmissions in Spring Hill. After eight years, they are due soon for an update.
Trudell has worked in engine plants before. She has been operations manager of GM's Willow Run Transmission plant in Ypsilanti, Mich. She also served two years as chief engineer in charge of manufacturing systems and artificial intelligence for GM Powertrain's Advanced Manufacturing Systems. Trudell, who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry, also spent three years as site manager of GM engine operations and foundry in Ontario.
Rebuild labor peace in Spring Hill. For the first time in its history, Saturn workers authorized a strike vote this year. It was the culmination of growing labor unrest.
In a prepared statement, Don Hack-worth, GM's senior vice president in charge of the North American Car Group, said Trudell 'has formulated strong partnerships with the unions she has worked with throughout her career.'
In a phone interview last week, Trudell said partnerships are crucial to Saturn's future.
'I value partnerships with the union, with suppliers and retailers,' said the Canadian-born executive. 'I share Sa-turn's core beliefs about working together with people. Partner-ships are what will help the company survive.'