But the Saturn factory -- touted as a worker's paradise and hailed as a model of cooperation between labor and management -- is a dream turned sour, with union workers voting to authorize a strike.
"I've never seen so much emotion at Saturn since I've been here. And it was all negative emotion," said Denny Stafford, a Saturn worker.
Stafford and 7,300 of his colleagues applauded the rollout of the first Saturn 8 years ago, cheering the start of an innovative partnership.
GM packaged this good will in commercials, capturing the consumer's imagination with Saturn's marketing theme: "Not just another car company."
But now, Denny Stafford says GM has reneged on its promise to give workers more input, and has shortchanged them in production-based bonuses.
"Kinda seems like there's a divorce on the way," he said. "We had a partnership where the upper level management was dedicated to it and upper level union leaders were dedicated to it, but a lotta things have changed."
If souring relations at Saturn lead to a strike, it could sabotage any hopes GM might have had of adopting the Saturn model at its other assembly plants. Like what happened at Flint, a strike could lead to a reversal of fortunes for thousands of families.
"They're scared. They've never seen anything like this," said Spring Hill Mayor Ron Hankins, who also works full time at Saturn.
"They've never seen our relationship, our partnership struggle like it has, and its concerning to them because their livelihood is tied to Saturn," he said.
Both sides are still talking, but if Saturn workers do walk -- for the first time in their history - it will mark a milestone in the worsening GM-UAW relationship.
"Instead of trying to make us more into GM, they need to try to make GM more what we are," said Stafford. "If we fail, it's really gonna send a bad message to the American public. We're kind of America's sweetheart, so if it does fail, it's gonna send a bad message to everyone."
With its small town values, Spring Hill thrives on Saturn. But dreams of a decade ago are on hold -- and strike talk is threatening to make Saturn what it never wanted to be: just another car company.
Reported by Frank Currier
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