General Motors Touts Flexible Assembly Approach At Revamped Spring Hill Plant

Years ago, General Motors boasted that Saturn was “a different kind of car company.”

Now, the Spring Hill, Tenn. facility that once made the now-discontinued Saturn is becoming a different kind of assembly plant.

As part of a four-year contract agreement with the United Auto Workers, General Motors will re-open the shuttered assembly side of the plant next year. On Monday, the company announced nearly 700 workers will be hired in 2012 and nearly 2,000 will be added by 2015.

When they arrive, they’ll find an assembly plant unlike any other in the country. GM is trying what Forbes calls “an innovative manufacturing concept” at the facility. Rather than produce one or two models, Spring Hill will function as a flex plant that produces vehicles in high demand, serving as an overflow catch-all of sorts.

The flexible nature of the plant was conceived after General Motors’ production could not keep up with sudden customer demand for the Chevrolet Equinox last year. Sales of the model rose 18 percent year over year, and production was ramped up three different times since 2009. GM said it will spend $61 million preparing Spring Hill to build the Equinox, a crossover model that has been Canadian-built in the past, according to Forbes.

In the past, when high demand subsided, that meant layoffs for workers and an idle facility. A push to change those dynamics came in March.

Mark Reuss, the GM North America president, pitched the idea to UAW president Bob King during a March of Dimes fundraiser walk, according to Forbes. “I asked him whether he’d be interested in talking about a super-flexible plant that would handle peak demand for hot-selling vehicles,” Reuss told the magazine. “He loved it.”

Part of the plant will be used in a traditional manner, churning out a high-volume of a mid-sized model vehicle that has yet to be announced and likely will not be unveiled until 2015. The flexible side of the plant will likely build approximately 40,000 annual units.

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