General Motors Corp. is ending its experiment with thermoplastic body panels but isn't ready to say what it will do with the equipment it uses to make those parts.
The Detroit automaker announced Dec. 11 that it is investing $225 million in its Spring Hill, Tenn., plant to refurbish it for future production.
That production will not include the Ion or Vue, the two Saturn-brand vehicles still made with the thermoplastic panels that were a part of the vehicle line since its debut in 1990. GM confirmed it will halt production of the Ion and Vue in late March.
GM installed 36 injection molding presses in its Spring Hill facility with the launch of Saturn. The brand's cars featured ``bounce-back'' plastic panels until the Relay minivan in 2004.
Since then, the midsize Aura car and Sky roadster debuted with sheet-metal bodies, but continued production of the Vue and Ion kept Saturn in the injection molding business.
The presses also turned out bumper fascia.
GM also has expanded production of Saturn products to other assembly plants beyond Spring Hill. The company announced its investment plans for Spring Hill to ensure workers that the facility has a future. The site will shut down in April with the end of the Ion and Vue, but reopen after ``several months'' once renovations are complete, the automaker said.
While Saturn featured plastic's ability to handle minor dings and dents in early advertising, the thermoplastic also drew complaints from buyers and GM executives that the thermal expansion and contraction of the material left large gaps in the body.
``So you sell someone a Saturn Vue and he says, `This is really poorly put together. Look how wide the gaps are for the doors - certainly not like a Japanese car,' '' noted GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz in 2003.
It is too early to say what GM will do with the injection molding operation in Spring Hill, said spokesman Tom Wickham. The company probably will disclose its plans in the spring.