Donald W. Hudler's elevation to the presidency of Saturn Corp. is more reward than promotion. After all, it was Mr. Hudler who sculpted the wildly successful marketing campaign that convinced consumers that Saturn is a different kind of car company, and more important, instilled the notion that the folks in Spring Hill, TN, Saturn's manufacturing home, have little to do with parentCorp.
As vice president of Saturn, Mr. Hudler was responsible for sales, service and marketing. In his new position, that triad remains in his portfolio, and he picks up responsibility for managing Saturn's unique partnership arrangement with Local 1853 of the United Auto Workers union. Mr. Hudler reports to his predecessor, Richard G. (Skip) LaFauve, who becomes chairman of Saturn. It is Mr. LaFauve who is still responsible for Saturn's strategic direction.
The short story is Mr. LaFauve, who also is a GM vice president and group executive of its Small Car Group, now is free to right that foundering group and continue to transfer what works at Saturn, particularly its sales and customer-service philosophy, to GM. Mr. Hudler takes the day-to-day management chores at Saturn off of Mr. LaFauve's plate. However, that job won't be a milk run.
Saturn is approaching a watershed, and it's anyone's guess what sort of company will exit the other side. Stephen P. Yokich, the new president of the UAW, makes no secret of his abhorrence of the partnership arrangement between Local 1853 and management. Mr. Yokich scuttled a planned expansion at the Spring Hill manufacturing complex that would have enlarged the local's membership, which is more or less independent from the UAW's national office.
Because of retaliatory pressure from Mr. Yokich, it's a sure bet that any vehicle expanding Saturn's product line (it has only three models) will be produced at a UAW plant. That worries Wall Streeters, who fear such an arrangement will dilute Saturn's uniqueness and threaten its customer-satisfaction rating, which is the highest of any North American-made model.
In an economic move. Saturn's upcoming midsized sedan will come from GM of Europe's Adam Opel AG division, and all of Saturn's models will utilize more GM-made parts. So Mr. Hudler's task will be more of the same: Incorporate GM into Saturn while maintaining the facade of an independent and different kind of car company. That's marketing, and marketing is what Mr. Hudler does best.
GM PR, part III
Jim Crellin, GM's chief corporate public relations interface with the working press and a GM PR staffer since 1970, calls it a day on Sept. 1. A former Detroit News labor reporter whose late father, Jack, was the premier labor writer of his day in the '50s and '60s, Mr. Crellin takes early retirement - he'll turn 59 this month - as GM reshuffles its PR organization for the third time in the last five years. He joins a growing list of "oldtimers" who've departed GM's PR ranks recently, including former Vice President Bruce McDonald and longtime Chevy PR Director Ralph Kramer. Mr. Crellin was known for his honesty and integrity - and for his deftness in traversing the thin line between demands from GM's brass and his media contacts.
It may not be a grabber - and it may not make it in the end - butCorp.'s Saturn subsidiary already has selected a moniker for the late-'90s car it'll build in Wilmington, DE, WAW learns: "Innovate." GM hasn't even officially confirmed such a car is in the works, but supplier sources say it's coming in 1999 as a 2000 model. The upscale Saturn is being developed with GM's Adam Opel AG German subsidiary, and reportedly will be spun off from the Opel Vectra as part of GM's global platform strategy. It's somewhat akin to Cadillac's entry-level Catera coming next year from Opel in Europe.