Back when Saturn saw itself as "a different kind of car company," it ran a different kind of factory.
Its 1985 memorandum of understanding with UAW Local 1853 created a distinctive work environment in Spring Hill, Tenn. But today Saturn - created as a test bed for worker participation - is being merged into parent General Motors' global manufacturing system.
In part, that reflects how GM has applied lessons from Saturn. But GM's other great laboratory, the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. joint venture with Toyota Motor Corp., has been more influential.
GM has modeled its global manufacturing system on what it learned with NUMMI. Industry observers say there's little doubt the global GM system represents Saturn's future.
"That's absolutely the direction they're going, to bring it under the same process that the other plants are," says Laurie Felax, vice president of Harbour and Associates, a Troy, Mich., consulting firm.