General Motors Corp. is expected to approve a plan next year to have Saturn Corp. build a sport-utility vehicle in Tennessee, local union leaders report.

Mike Bennett, the bargaining chairman of the United Auto Workers Local 1853, said key GM officials already have signed off on the idea, which would cost the company about $230 million and add up to 1,000 workers at the Spring Hill plant, which now employs 7,200.GM is expected to approve the plan in the first half of next year, and production could begin in 2001, he said. "I think it's a major turning point for Saturn's future and GM's UAW relationship," Bennett said.

Adding a sport-utility vehicle would boost production at the Spring Hill plant to about 420,000 vehicles per year, Bennett said. The plant made about 270,000 cars last year.

GM officials in Michigan referred all calls to Saturn. Greg Martin, Saturn's spokesman in Spring Hill, said GM has the final say on all Saturn products and no decision has been made on whether a sport-utility vehicle will be built. He declined to comment further.

The announcement about the sport-utility vehicle was included in a UAW document highlighting an agreement reached last week by the union and Saturn to keep their unique contract. It was given to workers as they entered the union hall to be briefed by union leaders.

Most Saturn workers interviewed after the announcement said they were pleased.

"They say it's ours to lose," Jared Dotson said of the sport-utility vehicle. "We've got it right now if everything goes as planned."