It's a shame we didn't make Saturn part of our "Epic Fail" Fortnight. The cars never were good; the first generation had "The Flaw" (NVH problems from a thrashy engine). The Ion was, well... the Ion. After that, all Saturns became rebadged GM stuff. So there never was a "Great" Saturn.
The car's name, "Saturn", came from the NASA rockets that were used to get us to the moon and win the Space Race. GM promised that "Saturn Corporation" (It was not a GM Division for years) would show the world the same success in making small cars that the rockets had in space exploration.
Tennessee is a "Right-to-work" state, meaning you don't have to belong to a union to work at an in-state business. But every line worker at Saturn was UAW. Nobody challenged this, as there was no victory to be had. Saturn said they were originally going to hire "Just misplaced GM workers" from plants that had already closed, but hordes of workers from still-open plants found their way to Tennessee, in lieu of locals that had expected jobs there.
Early on, a large discount retail store offered special discounts to Saturn employees. But a mining company there in Maury County had just closed, leaving hundreds without jobs. These people needed the discounts far worse they the well-paid GM folks, but they did not get it. To say this was a PR boondoggle would be an understatement.
There was an ABC News Special called "Revolution At Work", hosted by Forrest Sawyer. The program interviewed a Maury County official who said he would like to buy a Saturn, drive it to their front door, and burn it in front of them. The show went on to tell how transplanted families from the north would make fun of the locals, call then hicks, and jokingly imitated the way they talked.
One member of a Saturn family told me that we were lucky Saturn came here, because we had nothing before. I said yes, we had open spaces, less congestion, less crime, and nicer people. He thought that NFL and NHL teams made up for that.
Peter Jennings (Not the late newscaster) wrote a book called "A Walk Across America", published in 1979. He chose Spring Hill, Tennessee, as his favorite town in the country, and moved there. Before 1985, the town had just ONE red light. Saturn used this as part of their basis for choosing Spring Hill. But the arrival of Saturn immediately ruined the charm and character of the town. In fact, some residents even renamed the town "Springhill".
On April 4, 1997, Saturn began selling right-hand-drive cars in Japan. To make the cars fit a certain Japanese width standard, special clips were installed to hold the plastic panels closer to the body frame. But on February 16, 2001, Saturn stopped selling cars there, after only 4,324 had been delivered in almost 4 years.
Comparing Saturn to nearby Nissan would fill a book. When Nissan came here, they hired local people (95% of the line technicians were from Tennessee). Saturn said they would hire Tennesseans, but they were few and far between. One story was that Saturn hired out-of-staters for a year, then made them permanent employees, citing that "They were Tennesseans now". A few Tennesseans were given jobs in the cafeterias and other service areas.
Nissan has always been union-free, and is frequently the most-productive auto/truck plant in the country. The "GM Spring Hill Assembly Plant" is now at about 20% capacity, building only the Chevy Traverse. It was just announced that the plant will be closed for 9 weeks this summer due to an inventory glut.
I feel for the people that had to move from the north, relocate here, then get yanked around by Saturn's failure. I feel sorry for dealers that spent millions opening dealerships that never had decent cars to sell. But I don't feel sorry for the lack of direction that was given Saturn, or the people that moved to Spring Hill to capitalize on the plant. They are as much responsible for destroying rural Spring Hill as GM.