Trading Places

Inside views on the jobs market

Car technician sees “short-time fever” at Texas dealership

May 15, 2009

This is part of a series of personal accounts about how people are surviving the recession. The writers are contributors to Associated Content. For more stories in this series, click here.

by Eloah James

My husband, Jason, an employee at a Saturn dealership in Texas, says co-workers are experiencing “short-time fever.”

Jason has worked for Saturn and GM for nearly 15 years as a service technician. For the last 10, he’s worked at the Saturn of Austin dealership.

With a steady decline in repair work over the last year, GM’s looming bankruptcy is not a big surprise for our family. With Saturn’s demise coming two years earlier than we anticipated, and the announcement of 1,200 GM dealership closings, it looks like his job may be a lost cause altogether.

At my husband’s dealership, folks are not bringing in their cars for repairs as frequently. And when they do, the repair work is often under warranty, so Jason is paid less for his work. This means he may only get paid for two hours worth of work for an eight-hour job because most of the work is under warranty. That leaves a technician like Jason making $50 or less for a day’s work.

Unlike autoworkers in Detroit and at plants, service technicians at Jason’s work are not unionized. If the dealership closes, he won’t receive a severance package or other compensation; he’ll simply lose his job. He told me he thinks about doing something else “all the time.” He says he knows if he sticks it out until Saturn of Austin closes, he may have to rely on unemployment.

“GM used to have more money than anybody,” Jason told me. But now his income has dropped off sharply over the last six months. His current year-to-date salary is around one-third of what it should be.

We do see some reason for optimism, however. If Penske and Nissan-Renault bought out portions of Saturn, the new company could rebadge Nissans under the Saturn brand. It’s not ideal, but it could protect many Saturn jobs, including my husband’s, as Nissan would utilize existing Saturn dealerships.

Jason said this was the best news Saturn service technicians had this year. But with GM’s news that it’s shuttering dealerships, it may be too late.


Jason why not start your own repair business, keep costs low, work from home and buy some secondhand gear. Keep your future in your own hands.


Maybe you should consider a switch to Fiat, rumour goes that they are coming to the US.


As a fixed operations manager for a suburban Chicago Saturn dealer, I have to agree with Eloah and her concern over husband Jason’s future as an auto technician. The best thing that can happen to Saturn would be the sale of the brand and get it as far away from General Motors as possible. Since GM’s announcement of the demise of Saturn the business at my store has diminished over 35% in service and parts and over 60% in sales. Several Saturn stores have closed in our immediate area and we still have not seen an increase in business. The general public simply will not buy a car that they perceive to be extinct before the loan is paid off. Current owners will not have their vehicles serviced by a dealership that they feel will not be there to stand behind their work. If GM executives didn’t realize the immediate effect of their announcement, then it only proves what inept executives they are. Incomes for Saturn dealer employess has been dropping consistently over the last few years. Largely due to the fact that GM product planners have failed to provide a product line that meets the needs and desires of the motoring public. People will buy the vehicles they want. Manufacturers have to be able to build and distribute the vehicles the public demands, otherwise they simply will not sell. This has been Saturn’s legacy over the last 5 years. Let GM keep their precious Chevrolets, Cadillacs, Buicks and GMC trucks. If they think they will be able to remain viable on the sales of only those brands, more power to them. For the sake of those who make their living within the confines of those brands, I hope GM can squeeze some level of success out of maintaining them. Based on the success rate of corporate decision makers within GM over the last few years, though, the future for them looks bleak. Even GM is hedging it’s bets on the American market and focusing it’s future potential on the Chinese market, as evidenced by the survival of Buick. Buick is a dying brand in the US, has been for years, yet it survivies because the Chinese market buys GM products under the Buick moniker, and the only market in whih GM is increasing it’s share is China. Why don’t the likes of Fritz Henderson and Mark LeNeve just move their corporate offices to downtown Beijing and wreak their havoc on the Chinese public? Put Saturn into the hands of someone who has a passion for the auto industry and really wants it to succeed and won’t let the corporate politics of inter divisional jealousy spell disaster for those who depend on the jobs the dealerships supply.

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