CAR IS BIG WHEEL OF THIS HOMECOMING

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SPRING HILL, Tenn.-In an area accustomed to watching country singing stars on stage, the Saturn Homecoming put cars in the spotlight.

About 30,000 Saturns and their owners returned home June 24 and 25 to this town just south of Nashville for a bonding session with the automobile company and the people who build the cars.

The event showed Saturn's greatest strength lies in the relationship the marketer has with its customers and the customers' allegiance to Saturn.

"We love our Saturns," said Ruth Morrissey of Sioux Falls, S.D. "We are all just a bunch of walking ads."

Tickets to the celebration cost $34 and included a one-day admission to Opryland.

Saturn officials and volunteers roamed the complex's 2,200 acres dressed in red and white baseball jerseys and caps. Some owner groups donned matching T-shirts with their dealer's name and location. And the Saturns wore an orange ball on their radio antennas to show the world they were going home.

Saturn's $1 million party went well except for a couple of heavy thunderstorms that sent visitors scurrying around like roaches when the lights go on.

On the first day, an early morn ing boomer dumped 2 inches of rain on the property in a half-hour. That washed out a road leading to the visitor parking lot and left thousands of Saturns backed up on Saturn Parkway.

Then, as a finale, a heavy storm in the late afternoon of the second day wiped out a scheduled concert by gospel singers BeBe and CeCe Winans and country star Wynonna, plus a fireworks display. It also blew down some tents and sent 13 people to the hospital with minor injuries.

But in between, Saturn Corp. and the cars' owners got to know each other better.

The homecoming was dictated by the customers, said Richard "Skip" LeFauve, Saturn president.

"We received letters from our customers asking if they could see the plant," he said. "So we decided to turn it into a homecoming party."

Mr. LeFauve, who sits on Harley-Davidson's board, attended a Harley reunion in Ohio and began taking notes.

"We planned for almost everything," he said.

Except an impromptu wedding, with Mr. LeFauve giving away the bride.

York, Pa., Saturn dealer employees Angela Weaver, 22, and Kurt Netter, 28, were married under a tent in a twilight ceremony with Bob Palmer, a United Auto Workers chaplain, officiating.

Katie Stone of Orlando led a 90-car caravan from the Sunshine State to Spring Hill; she will remember the weekend as her chance to finally be a cheerleader.

While touring the 4.5 million-square-foot manufacturing facility, Ms. Stone and her group cheered the assembly line team with a round of "I say! I say! I say! Saturn!"

The Saturn team members (don't call them employees) cheered back and posed for photos. For two days, the team members and owners chatted and collected autographs across the assembly line.

Why did people travel thousands of miles to celebrate a car?

"Advertising," answered Dan Gillette, a Deere & Co. dealer who came from Ottumwa, Iowa, with his spouse, Debbie. "We got a couple of things in the mail. At first, we thought it was stupid, but the more we thought about it, the better it sounded."

Invitations went out to 650,000 customers through a direct mail campaign from Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, and Carlson Marketing, Troy, Mich. Riney was also there with a crew to film TV spots, set to air in mid-July for the subsidiary of General Motors Corp.

Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence, Nashville, handled public relations.

Among those accepting the invitations were 30 Saturn owners from Taiwan. A dealer there also arranged to bring home the first Saturn sold there. That car was honored with its own tent.

When the visitors weren't touring the plant or shaking hands with Saturn team members, they were eating; participating in Camp Saturn activities for kids; enjoying arts and crafts; storytelling; and watching a blacksmith.

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