News that General Motors may sell or close Saturn seems such a small part of the ongoing apocalyptic drama — except to Saturn dealers and people like Neil DeKoker.
DeKoker, founding president of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, was part of the Group of 99 — salaried and hourly GM employees who gave Saturn its personality, character and brand DNA nearly a quarter of a century ago.
He told me last week that he's shocked and dismayed at Saturn's fate.
"We came together to create a new world order," said DeKoker.
In early 1984 he joined the group that visited GM and competitive factories around the world. The group benchmarked the best in manufacturing, marketing, sales and human relations.
Central to the Saturn vision was eliminating the animus between management and labor so all parties could work together as teammates and co-owners.
Obstructive work rules disappeared. Communication improved. And UAW workers agreed to work for 20 percent less than base pay at other GM plants, but with bonuses for meeting performance goals.
DeKoker left GM to become a vice president of Magna International on Aug. 1, 1985, just after it was announced that Spring Hill, Tenn., would be the Saturn plant site. By then, the Group of 99 had developed the guiding principles, shaped the business model and hammered out the historic Saturn labor agreement.
He wasn't around for Job 1 or the early marketing and sales successes with customer-friendly practices.
In the 1990s, the vision of making Saturn a world class entry-level vehicle went sour. GM choked off product development funds, and Steve Yokich, by then head of the UAW, torpedoed the unique partnership, not to mention the original mission of the Group of 99.
Why 99? It was originally a group of 100, said DeKoker, but one UAW member thought Saturn was a GM plot to co-opt the union.
He walked out in a huff.
GM is about to follow that guy's example.
Some things never change.