By on June 22, 2011

How many former Saturn buyers do you figure have come back to GM for their next car? What about consumers who last purchased a Pontiac? How about HUMMER? Since we’re not bound to a strict inverted pyramid around here, why don’t you think of an answer (in terms of percentage of customers retained) for each brand and then hit the jump to see how close you were.

OK, pencils down. According to the Detroit News:

In 2010, GM retained 36 percent of Pontiac owners who bought new vehicles, as well as 26 percent of Saturn and 39 percent from Hummer, according to California-based research firm J.D. Power & Associates.

That’s far below the 55 percent retention rate for GM’s Chevrolet brand, as well as under the industry average of 48 percent.

Considering that GM has been tackling this retention challenge for two years now, using the term “free agents”  to describe buyers of its defunct brands and dealers and throwing all manner of free oil changes, maintenance packages, and deals on new cars at them, this is not a great result. The way former US sales boss Susan Docherty described the “free agent” retention effort a short year-and-a-half ago, focus groups, direct mail and email marketing, as well as “establishing credibility with a service relationship.” Speaking of which, dealers have been making their own efforts to reach out to GM’s “free agents” as well, so The General’s corporate retentino efforts can’t even take all the credit for this underwhelming result.

But why did GM’s “free agents” jump ship in such large numbers? One theory, from JD Power analyst Steve Witten, is that it comes down to product and branding, not dealers and outreach:

The truth of the matter is they didn’t have many options for people to stay in the GM family… When they decided to pull the plug on [Saturn], there wasn’t really another GM brand similar enough from an image standpoint

But c’mon… really? The differences between a Saturn Aura, a Pontiac G6 and a Chevy Malibu were that big? Methinks Mr Witten is looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. A more plausible theory comes from a dealer who used to sell Saturns, and has switched to selling Kias since the brand cull, who notes:

I would say the majority of people who had Saturns were very unhappy they got left holding the bag on this one. A lot of them took a hit on the value of their cars and that turned them off to Saturn and GM

Remember, a big hit on resale can be as much of a financial burden as a grenaded engine, or faulty transmission. And though GM is arguably making progress in erasing memories of its bad old days of product ignominy, things like the resale hit on culled brand vehicles could create a whole new generation of mistrust between GM and its once-loyal customers. But hey, at least there were only 6.8m of these “free agents” as of early 2010…

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104 Comments on “GM’s Orphaned Brand Buyers Have Moved On...”


  • avatar

    “Moved One” what?

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    The products did have some things that at least let you see that they should be distinct.

    What current GM model has a handbrake? Didn’t Saturns and Pontiacs have those?

    Does Chevrolet offer a manual transmission on the Malibu comparable to the manual 6 available on the G6?

    What GM brand offers an affordable convertible similar to the G6 convertible?

    Then again, imagine if GM had used one of its zombie subsidiary banks to offer $5,000 on top of any promotion for bringing in an abandoned brand in favor of a new purchase. $5,000 would have made a Malibu look good as a G6 replacement.

  • avatar

    a large number of these customers are now driving the brands that their former GM dealer is now carrying, ie. VW, Kia, Nissan. so much for saving that million dollars per closed storefront. GM thought the customers belonged to them. haha!

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      That’s exactly what my mom’s best friend did. She had a 1999 Saturn SC1 bought new with a transmission that was preparing to give up the ghost and an A/C compressor that had be routed around after failing and she bought a used Beetle Convertible. She’d always wanted a convertible and trusted the dealership, which used to be a Saturn only affair.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    After driving the worse cars ever manufactured branded as Chevrolets, I didn’t have an interest in any GM car until my wife insisted we look at Saturn. So, I bought her one. It turned out to be a very nice car. So I bought another. And another. And another. And another.

    Now that they are gone, there is absolutely no way I would buy another GM product. Seeing how GM completely starved a very good brand and line of dealerships was disgusting. Being left with two very nice orphan cars that were regularly serviced by the local Saturn dealer, but are now rolling zombies, is too much.

    I had two more payments left on one of the Saturns. What am I paying for? I bought a Saturn! I bought into driving a car with top notch service. Where is that service now? Part of the deal of owning a Saturn was being a part of an outstanding dealership with folks we were on a first name basis with. That was a part of the purchase of a Saturn. When GM killed the brand and shut down the dealerships, we lost a whole more than just resale value. We watched our friends struggle to find new work in a decayed economy.

    GM? They took our money, but did not deliver what we bought. They took our tax money and as a nation we are out $14 billion dollars. They screwed our friends. I will never buy from GM again.

    It has little to do with product folks. It is about being faithful to a company that dumped us like a hot rock while robbing us at the same time.

    $#^& GM!

    Two weeks ago we got a 2012 Focus. Totally better car. Totally better company. We never considered a GM car, did not look at one, and will never do so again.

    Frankly, I can’t believe a quarter of previous Saturn owners bought another GM car. I guess some folks enjoy being taken advantage of.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      See, this is what I meant about drinking the Kool Aid. Saturn was a marketing triumph. People actually believed that stuff.

      From the GM perspective, their greatest error was ditching a bunch of customers who actually think no-haggle pricing is for their benefit.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Speaking of marketing, a few of my non-car guy friends didn’t even know that Saturn was a GM brand.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Ubermensch: We car guys have a pretty distorted perception about brands. I’ve encountered a similar thing with non car people, they have no clue who makes what. Don’t even tell them about joint ventures, that makes it worse.

        Even my wife, who is the offspring of a racing family, can’t seem to keep car companies straight. She was convinced that we could apply our GM discounts to Chrysler products at one time.

        As for me, an actual Pontiac owner, I might be looking for a car similar to the one I’ll be replacing (in about seven years). If GM maintains a similar line up like today’s into the future, I would probably be looking at a highline Chevy, maybe an SS version.

        But, a lot can happen in seven or so years, and priorities change. I can’t say for sure what I’ll be thinking about buying in 2018 yet.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Excuse me M1 –

        You insist on insulting us, yet you never owned one.

        It isn’t marketing if it is true. You don’t know what you are talking about.

        This posting is about brand loyalty and why GM’s Saturn and Pontiac buyers didn’t buy another GM brand. I am responding to it based on my long experience as a Saturn loyalist.

        This posting isn’t for you to insult those who owned Saturns or Pontiacs.

        We got it. You didn’t buy a Saturn. Thanks for stopping by and peeing on us.

      • 0 avatar
        LectroByte

        Re: Saturn. I am not sure creating a separate brand was the best idea, but the initial set of products was very interesting for their times. As someone who keeps a car for 10 to 12 years (assuming it doesn’t get wrecked-beyond-repair or stolen), I really liked the idea of plastic body panels that didn’t look like a battered beer can after 4 or 5 years of parking lot abuse. Alas, when I was looking to replace the CRX in 2002, Saturn was not really that interesting to me by that time, seems like it had sort of “withered on the vine”.

        The no-haggle pricing is not that big a deal to me, the current system always leaves me a bit unsatisfied as I suspect I could have gotten a little better deal, but more interested in a long-term no-hassle “keeper” than getting the absolute lowest price.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      I still can’t figure out how GM managed to fuck up Saturn. They had a really good thing going.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        aristurtle, we owned a dark green ’96 SL2 we bought new for our daughter when she lived at home for going to school and it was a bad car.

        It blew the headgasket three times, the handbrake lever came apart on us, the manual transmission had to be rebuilt before it had 64K miles on it and the AC was in constant need of R12 replenishment. Not to mention the Check Engine light kept coming on and going off while cruising on US70 to and from school while merrily emitting a black smoke cloud from the tail pipe at 70mph.

        Since she traded that POS for a Civic (years ago) she hasn’t had any problems. Yeah, she moved on alright, but not with another GM brand.

        Not everyone enjoyed as good an experience as you did. I dare say, more people actually had a bad experience with GM’s products and that’s why the foreign brands are doing so well in America.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Pretty simple, really…the product didn’t keep pace with the competition. I know – I shopped the brand twice and bought other cars instead.

        The first time I shopped them was back in 1993, and even then, I thought Saturns were subpar. The styling was nice, and the buying experience was refreshingly pleasant, but the cars were crude and thrashy compared with the Corollas, Civics, Proteges and other leading compact cars of that time (I ended up with a Protege).

        Flash forward 12 years or so, and when I was trading out that Protege for a new compact (a Ford Focus, as it turns out), it was the same story – the Ion was nowhere near as good as the competition.

        I think Saturn traded for too long on the marketing concept – which was admittedly excellent – but never really honed the product the way it should have been. That’s why they’re not around anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        My wife has a 2002 SC2 that is rock-solid reliable with the one exception that it burns a disconcertingly large amount of oil.

        But I get what you’re saying: Saturn’s quality was inconsistent. You might get a good one or a bad one. However, for the rest of GM’s small cars at the time of the early Saturns, the quality was quite consistent in that it was consistently terrible. Saturn represented GM making better small cars than they used to and selling them at better dealerships. They came out strong and then they didn’t know what to do after that and got caught up in the “every brand must have one car for every segment” thing that screwed up all their other brands.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        If you were topping off a 1996 anything with R-12 the problem was operator error.

      • 0 avatar
        Darkhorse

        When I was getting my MBA in the mid eighties, one of my professors was working on a case study of Saturn. Roger Smith had announced the brand but I don’t think they started production until 1990. The prof’s study revealed just how radical the original concept was. GM had bought EDS a few years before (1984) and had acquired H. Ross Perot (remember him?) as part of the deal. Perot was pushing GM to automate more of their production and marketing. Saturn showrooms were supposed to be small areas with just a few display/test drive cars on the lot. If a customer chose to purchase a Saturn, he would sit down at a computer terminal with a salesman and “build” the car he wanted. The specifications would then be transmitted to the factory where his car would be built “just in time”. It was probably an unrealistic goal for the time and to my knowledge has never been done by any car manufacturer to date.

        Anyway, GM’s board sacked Perot not long after this and gave him a $800 Million going away present. I sometimes wonder what might have been if Perot had become CEO of GM.

        Interesting link on this: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1988/02/15/70199/index.htm

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        bikegoes, I’m not set up for AC work and had to take it to the GM dealer in town. I’m sure they knew what they were doing for $200 a pop and topped it with R134a. I should have written refrigerant but in my haste I typed R12. My error. Although I do a lot of maintenance on my own cars I had some disastrous experiences with the AC unit in my 1972 Olds Custom Cruiser Stationwagon. Since then I sold my vacuum pump, gauges and valves and let someone else do the work.

        Darkhorse, I, too, was in the process of getting my MBA 1980-1982 and we also did a case-study on GM. I was driving Olds back then and even bought a new Silverado in 1988 because I still believed. My part of the assessment dealt with Oldsmobile. Looking back I have to say that I was really ignorant when it came to quality vehicles. I have moved on.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        Ok, that makes sense. Back in the nineties when R-12 was still readily available people would sometimes mis-charge their AC systems with the wrong refrigerant and wind up with recurring issues as a result.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        “If a customer chose to purchase a Saturn, he would sit down at a computer terminal with a salesman and “build” the car he wanted. The specifications would then be transmitted to the factory where his car would be built “just in time”.”

        That’s how smart worked when they first came to the US. You ordered your car online instead of going to the dealer, but otherwise it was basically this.

    • 0 avatar
      pbxtech

      I have purchased 5 Saturns for me or my family since they started up. If they would have had a minivan when I need one I would have owned 3 more. My 3rd daughter needed a car this year so I bought her a Mazda. GM screwed me, I did not even look at a GM car this time. Why should I? I hated the “hide the keys” or “talk to my manager” BS. I’m a loyal buyer, I’ll shop Mazda first until I die or they behave unethically.

      TL:DR GM (and Dealers) you need to behave ethically and have reliable products.

  • avatar
    muito_obrigado

    How much of this data includes customers that have a GM employee discount? If you back them out, I suspect that the retention rate data is even uglier….

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      So true! Great point. Unfortunately, and for many GM owners and former GM “burn-ies” like myself, it was those huge incentives and points on my GM card that kept me coming back. 5000 dollars towards the purchase of a new Government Motors vehicle went along way towards convincing me not to shop the competition. Otherwise, I would have bought a Tundra alot sooner and not had the displeasure of my two GM lemons.

  • avatar
    redliner

    Are there any figures for Mercury and Lincoln?

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      When you consider that Lincoln today is down (and shrinking) from Lincoln (only) a year ago, no, they’re not even holding on to the people who bought Lincolns 3 years ago, to say nothing of capturing any of the 10s of thousands of ex-Mercury buyers.

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    It’s going hat to take a while for GM to convince buyers of those brands that there are suitable alternatives to the dead brands within GM’s remaining product line. But they do exist, and hopefully will continue to expand. I feel that Chevrolet is trying to effectively cover the good small cars segment (that Saturn used to own) as well as excitement (which was what Pontiac was ostensibly responsible for).

  • avatar
    russification

    all of the goal posts are moving all of the time. its not a gm disease

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      But GM seems to have a harder time than the other top-tier carmakers when it comes to chasing the goalposts. That’s the problem.

      Looking back at their history, they do a moonshot every once in a while, catch up, and then they’re lapped by the competition. IIRC, Saturn was one of these moonshots. The Volt seems to be, too.

      In order to see if the new GM is really a New GM, let’s watch the Volt over the next few years and see if the Volt receives upgrades and improvements to match the competing plugin cars that are scheduled to be released over the next couple of years. If they refresh the Volt regularly to keep up with the changes in technology, then it really is different this time….

  • avatar
    M 1

    I have to go with JD Powers. They really nailed it from the Saturn standpoint. They only sold a few thousand Auras so that’s largely an irrelevant reference in your rhetorical rebuttal. You have to think about value-buyers scooping up Vues and other bottom-end bargain rides, and today GM has little to offer them. The Asian Plastics suddenly look appealing.

    It gets a bit more complicated from the Pontiac standpoint. Real car guys know Pontiac has strayed far afield from being the GM branch known for sportier offerings, but you park a Malibu next to a Grand Prix, and the Malibu looks relatively plain. Granted, neither are going to set the world on fire, but the move would be from something marginally interesting to a pure transportation appliance.

    The loss of Hummer customers is probably the most puzzling, as the H2 and H3 were little more than re-bodied Tahoes and Trailblazers. But those buyers are strictly concerned with looks, so it would seem the shortcomings of the GM equivalents are primarily issues of marketing.

    Actually, marketing could partly play into the Saturn thing, too. Even though the Vue is a cheap-feeling, tippy monstrosity, my mother and her husband both have one and are convinced Saturn is the greatest company on earth. They have not only drank the Kool-Aid about the no-haggle thing and the claimed friendly neighborhood service, I’m pretty sure they’ve actually snorted lines of the Kool_Aid powder itself. And there is nothing in the current GM marketing effort to equate to the Saturn “message” — regardless of whether it was legit or not, as that has never been a priority in marketing.

    I also have a huge problem with the claim that “a big hit on resale can be as much of a financial burden as a grenaded engine, or faulty transmission”… first, taken at face-value it’s just silly. Lack of resale value isn’t going to leave you stranded at midnight in the bad part of DC. It might be a new-buyer turn-off, but it isn’t like Saturn ever had good resale value, and Pontiac and Hummer were pretty weak as well. I can’t see a connection between that and changes in GM repeat-buyer behavior, particularly when it comes to bargain buyers. But maybe I misunderstood the point?

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      Sounds like you think your mother doesn’t know what she is talking about. Yet she represents a substantial percentage of real car driving, car owning buyers GM had. What is so bad about making car owners feel good about their cars? Saturn owners were not idiots because they didn’t drive what you did.

      I owned five Saturns. I would still be buying them today if they were around. I am not an idiot.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      @M 1
      I’m going to agree with Ed on “a big hit on resale can be as much of a financial burden as a grenaded engine, or faulty transmission”.

      In the event of a theft or collision total, getting an insurance settlement for $5K short of your loan payoff because of poor resale isn’t any different from having to buy a $5K transmission a month after the warranty expires.

      A change of life circumstances, such as a job loss or twins, making it impossible to keep a car with a loan but poor resale isn’t much less damaging.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @Patrick:

        Gap insurance solves that issue, which happens on ALL car brands, not just defunct GM lines. Insurance companies don’t like to pay…old story.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        @Freed
        But if the vehicle had decent resale value in the first place, such gaps would be manageable and not require insurance. The gap exceeded $5K on my current car for at least 2 years; I found it nerve-wracking. It’s a sign of poor value for money to me.

        Despite having driven every car I’ve ever owned for 100,000 miles, I will be VERY conscious of resale value (and shorter financing) on my next. I’m not a believer in insuring against manageable risks, and I’ll choose and finance my next car so as to keep this risk manageable without insurance.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        The gap exceeded $5K on my current car for at least 2 years; I found it nerve-wracking. It’s a sign of poor value for money to me.

        To me it’s a sign that you didn’t put enough cash down at the time of purchase, or that your finance term was too long. Most likely both.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        @bike
        I ended up driving a lot of miles quickly and had a minimal down payment, but the car basically took a 40% depreciation hit out of the dealer’s driveway.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Anybody know where all the Studebaker buyers went?

    But seriously folks… My fiance bought a 2005 Vibe new and when the time for a replacement comes she’ll likely give the Buick/GMC dealer the first shot cause she likes the service she received. She’s now their customer to loose. I’m suprized ANY Saturn buyers chose GM again given that those were largely stand alone dealerships.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Toyota took the golden opportunity to sign up a lot of ex-Studebaker dealers.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      The one Saturn owner that I know just purchased a Mazda. I think the slightly quirky image of Saturn vs mainstream Chevy worked against GM retaining him. Mazda is not a mainstream import brand compared to Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        A two Saturn owner down the street from me just recently replaced one with a Subaru Outback… similar non-mainstream brand image.

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

        Saturn owners I know bought Subaru’s and Nissans. One traded an absolute POS Astra last week for a new (2011 leftover) Civic Si.

        Even a 4000 dollar trade in value was worth the change apparently. Kickass car btw (Si) :)

    • 0 avatar
      mazder3

      Well, my grandfather went from Studebaker to Plymouth, then VW and then Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave W

      The last American car my dad owned was a Studebaker. When he sold it in ’57 He bought a Lloyd. He says he almost bought a Studie Avanti to replace the Lloyd in’63. He obviously didn’t fear owning an orphan (the Lloyd was replaced by a DKW) it was the outrageously high price, around $4500.

  • avatar
    Ryndee

    Thanks for everyone’s comments so far. I’m a GM Communications staffer, so you know the POV I’m coming from. As Jesse Toprak noted in the Detroit News article, eliminating any of our brands was a hard thing to do, but necessary to make the company sustainable. My first car was a Pontiac and I also owned a Saturn. We are doing everything we can to keep people who owned the brands that are now gone in a Chevy, Buick, GMC or Cadillac vehicle, and our dealers are helping us. We’re holding our own so far — Our market share in the U.S. for Q1 this year was 19%, up from 18.4% for Q1 last year. Retail sales for vehicles we’ve launched since 2009 are up 74%, despite the fact we cut half of our brands.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      When Saturn was launched, it was an acknowledgement that GM’s previous small cars were not good. GM’s CEO personally launched Saturn. It was Roger Smith’s public announcement that GM is going to make cars better. Better technologies. Better manufacturing methods. Better than any other GM car. That included Chevy and Buick which survived the cuts. Saturn was GM’s presentation of a better small car and a better brand. Saturn made buyers burned by horrible GM small cars to take another look at GM.

      Saturn was completely different and marketed that way. From it’s body panels, it’s space frame construction, it’s twin cam four cylinders, it’s Spring Hill Tennessee plant, it’s different UAW contract, it’s different manufacturing process, it’s different dealerships and it’s different pricing – Saturn was a reboot, sold as a reboot, and within five years, saw a small profit. It was bought by people like me who believed in giving GM another chance, even when we wouldn’t have given any other company another chance. At the time of launch, we saw many major auto makers relaunching better vehicles. Saturn fit the meme of the times.

      Expecting Saturn buyers to return to Chevrolet or Buick after presenting Saturn as it was marketed is expecting Saturn owners to forget why they bought a Saturn. It wasn’t a Chevrolet. It was better. Remember?

      The quandary GM finds itself with Saturn owners is what happens when a company sells a new brand against another one of it’s brands. It wasn’t just competition against the Japanese, it was competition against GM’s other brands, especially those like Chevrolet.

      Will Saturn owners give Chevrolet a look again? Not likely. I pull up behind a late model Chevrolet in my Saturn and half the time I am seeing a discoloring fading crapped-out golden bowtie Chevrolet badge glued onto the trunk or hatch of a newer car than mine. What an image! A golden Chevrolet badge decomposing on a car that looks like it’s owner is still making payments on. I have a car that still looks fantastic! I am going to trade it in for that?

      GM sold me a car supposedly better than the car brands it is now selling. GM said so. GM sold me through a dealership that supposedly dealt with me fairer, and serviced me better, than other GM brand dealerships. What level of cynicism am I supposed to have?

      GM marketed itself into a corner and now it seems GM just hopes we forget.

      No way to another Chevrolet. They look very attractive, but it seems that they are still taking dumps before the payment book is empty. Buick? Sorry, but I am under 80 years of age.

      GM had it’s second chance with us from 1990 until 2009, but GM decided it was all a sham – not us.

      • 0 avatar
        John Horner

        Saturn was a money looser from day 1. GM’s mistake wasn’t in shutting Saturn down, it was in ever starting the new division in the first place. Trying to fix what was wrong with GM by starting a parallel company within a company was a bad strategic move.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Saturn was run as an “internal startup”, and most startups lose money from day 1. That’s kind of the point. Lots of big companies do that when institutional inertia becomes too strong to let new ideas thrive in the traditional way.

        After Saturn started to catch on, somewhere in the 2001-ish timeframe, GM should have stopped selling Chevrolet small cars and tried pushing those people to Saturn, rather than beat a dead horse with a refreshed Cavalier, the Cobalt, the Kalos/Aveo, etc. (And they certainly never should have then hastily rebadged them all as Pontiacs! The G3? Really? What the hell were you thinking?!)

        Instead, they screwed it up and started to dilute Saturn with bloated SUVs and rebadged GM vehicles. You know, the same way the killed Pontiac. And Saab. And…

        The reverse, where you try to move Saturn buyers to Chevy, clearly isn’t going to work. When my wife needs to replace her SC2, I can’t imagine that she’d pick up a Cruze.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Vanilla Dude –

        All due respect, I know Saturn had its enthusiasts, but I was never all that impressed with the cars to begin with. That said, though, I think GM should have kept the brand as a niche. Chevy’s going to take on Toyota and Ford, but what do they have for people who might buy an edgier, sportier small car like a Mazda, Kia, VW or even Honda? Absolutely nothing. The Cruze, as nice as it is (and honestly, it’s a lot better than anything Saturn ever made), won’t appeal to those buyers.

    • 0 avatar
      Tommy Boy

      I never owned a Saturn / Pontiac / Hummer (I worked for a multi-point / mulit-franchise car dealership from the 1970′s until 1996, and it had two Chevy points plus a Cadillac-Olds; and seeing “GM quality” up close and personal, I was never inclined to “invest” my own money in one).

      Still, there are many who were satisfied with GM products (then again, there are many who are satisfied with Ripple wine). Of those, I have to believe that many resent the UAW-GM-Chrysler bailouts and the fact that money is being taken from their paychecks to pay for it, and so are permanently moving on (some inadvertently going to Ford, erroneously believing that it wasn’t bailed out — it was, albeit by other means).

      I agree with them — even if GM product engineering, design, short and long-term quality someday catches up with the competition, I’m not inclined to signify my approval of the UAW-GM bailout by giving them my business. That would be unpatriotic — better to support non-UAW American workers assembling cars without a taxpayer subsidy.

      Note this from yesterday’s Forbes magazine online:

      Obama Didn’t Save Union Jobs, He Saved Union Pay

      http://www.forbes.com/2011/06/21/bailout-autoworkers-unions.html

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Ryndee: Since no one else has said this, welcome to the board! Also, thanks for pointing out your status here. GM is a constantly controversial topic on this site, so make sure you’re wearing a flameproof suit.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @ Ryndee: What geozinger said. Also speaking as a GM Canada hourly retiree,I’m glad we got folks like you checking in every so often.

        BTW..take geozinger advice with the flameproof suit.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I’m with geozinger. I sure hope GM can turn things around to pay back we, the people. I was against the bail outs, hand outs and nationalization of anything and everything that had failed, at tax payers expense.

        And having been the owner of many different GM vehicles over the past 64 years I just don’t see a comeback to profitability sans taxpayer money happening unless GM takes it to China.

        Before buying my new truck last January I checked out what was available on the market and bought what I thought was the best (a 2011 5.7 Tundra DC SR5).

        You can add me to that long list of people who have moved on without GM in our future. Maybe some Communist Chinese guy can buy my share of future GM products.

    • 0 avatar
      Type57SC

      You said “Retail sales for vehicles we’ve launched since 2009 are up 74%, despite the fact we cut half of our brands.” What does the number of brands have to do with whether newly launched vehicles increase retail sales? If anything, cutting competing offerings from killed brands should help the retail sales of new launches not hurt them. Furthermore, why wouldn’t we expect a new vehicle to pull dramatically more retail and more sales overall – isn’t that the point of a new model?

      • 0 avatar
        Ryndee

        The article implied that we are losing market share because we eliminated these brands and customers were going to competitors, which has not been the case. Your point is correct that having fewer brands in the GM family competing with one another does improve the chances of the new vehicles we launch. However, we’re also seeing these vehicles conquest sales from our competitors — good examples are the Chevy Equinox, Volt and Cruze; Buick LaCrosse, Regal and Enclave; GMC Terrain; and Cadillac SRX.

  • avatar
    radimus

    Yet another thing about marketing that GM never understood: Brand loyalty goes both ways.

    Of course, if the taxpayer subsidized suites at GM understood marketing and brand loyalty they wouldn’t have been the situation in the first place, and Saturn would have never had a need to exist.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    It’s naive to think that GM did not realize that it would lose most of its zombie customers (but publicly say otherwise). It was just a bitter pill that had to be swallowed.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    This was always the problem with the kill brands scenario, and there was no good way to do it.

    Of course it is true that many customers resent being left holding the bag.

    It is also true that people who had bought into the brand premise of Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer do not have comparable GM brands to migrate to. Remember Branding 101, it isn’t just about the product.

    Saturn was targeted at no fuss buyers who wanted an import like product and experience. They have more in common with CarMax shoppers than they do with Chevrolet buyers.

    Pontiac had the slightly bad boy, slightly trailer trash Vibe going. Hardly the same image as Buick.

    Hummer was all about intimidating your fellow road warriors. Ram trucks have more in common with that brand than does anything from GM or Ford.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Vanilla – we get you are angry. But to think GM, uniquely lies ALL the time, is a bit much. What do ex Plymouth or Mercury owners think?
    Also I don`t see many golden bow-ties fading on the backs of Chevrolets I see (p.s. I own a Subaru) – maybe it is just your area or bias.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      I am not angry. I am trying to clearly state why I think GM will not get future sales from Saturn owners.

      I also think it was wrong in hindsight for Roger Smith to launch Saturn as a seperate brand. It should have been a Chevrolet from Day one.

      This would have helped Chevrolet and helped GM at this time.

      • 0 avatar
        MrGreenMan

        Or, having loved my Oldsmobile, the division they gutted to make Saturn, they could have shored up the cult of Oldsmobile and stopped worrying if “Cutlass” was becoming too big a sub-brand like “Civic” or “Corolla”.

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        VanillaDude,

        Keep in mind that at the same time Saturn came out, Chevrolet’s image was so tarnished with import buyers that they brought out the Geo. “The Chevrolet for someone who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Chevrolet.” The cars were all rebadged imports (or NUMMI product). And once you bought it, the nameplate said Geo, but the title (in Pennsylvania, at least) said Chevrolet.

        Bringing anything new out as a Chevrolet at that time was something fraught with difficulties.

  • avatar
    86er

    But c’mon… really? The differences between a Saturn Aura, a Pontiac G6 and a Chevy Malibu were that big?

    Sure, we know that, but did they?

    Also, with those kind of retention numbers, let’s be sure to advise GM to axe GMC at their earliest convenience, all.

  • avatar
    JMII

    My mother loved her two Saturns, both got over 100K miles, but she is moving on to Hyundai after flirting with Nissan. This will be my parents first “foreign” make in over 30 years. She owned a VW Rabbit back in the late 70s.

  • avatar
    ninja14blue

    I currently own a ’06 GTO and a ’00 SL2. The only GM car I’m remotely interested in is the upcoming C7 Corvette…and sadly, I probably won’t be able to afford it.

    Planning on giving my Saturn to my stepdaughter next year when she goes away to college, and I’ll look for another $4K-$5K commute car to last me the next 5 years or more, and it will most likely be a used Honda, Toyota, or Hyundai. The GTO is now 5 years old and only has 17K miles on it, so it isn’t going to be worn out or ready to be replaced for a long time. Plus it’s paid for, which is always a good thing.

    I doubt a GM will be my next car…the wife is due for a new car soon, and she wants a Sonata Turbo.

  • avatar
    evan

    JD Power analyst Steve Witten provides the usual ‘analyst’ explaination, which removes responsibility from company management — ‘There’s no good fit image-wise’ in GM to migrate customers, so therefore it’s out of GM’s hands and they need not take any responsibility for their failures.

    The more I read from JD Powers the more I realize they are like the Auther Andersen of the automotive world: Buy our services and we’ll publish the results you want.

  • avatar

    I find it amazing how many of the B&B here are quick to discount the importance of marketing, style and overall brand image. To many of you GM’s brands may seem interchangable, but to loyal brand customers and people who appreciate the differences they are not.

    GM may have sold essentially the same vehicles over many different brands but each version carried the style and character of that brand. In the end GM was also doing a good job of differentiating the look and feel of each version inside and out, making them more distinctive than ever.

    If you’re a Pontiac or Saturn person you’re going to find that Buick and Chevrolet just don’t have the same branding or image you like. Personally, I am a Pontiac person. I have a 2009 G8 GXP and 2009 Vibe GT. I really love the styling of both cars inside and out and both are great cars.

    Though Pontiac and Chevrolet were essentially interchangable I find that the attitude (and styling) just isn’t there on Chevrolets, they are much too vanilla. So I understand why Pontiac people feel they have nothing to go to GM for anymore. It’s a shame too, with more aggressive styling Chevrolet could become more of a viable replacement for Pontiac but GM seems hellbent on making Chevys aside from the Camaro as plain as possible, even the Corvette is dull looking.

    I also recieved letters from GM in the mail offering me free oil changes and loyalty rebates on Buicks. They also sent me a free $50 gift card if I would test drive a new Regal turbo, which I did and though it is a very nice car it just doesn’t have the look inside and out that I like in the Pontiacs.

    Pontiac’s closing wasn’t too bad for me. The Vibe has very strong resale and I paid a firesale price for it well under MSRP and I’m keeping it like new. The GXP is collectible so it’s worth more now used than what I paid for it new.

    If Pontiac were still here I would have liked getting the G8 wagon for my family or new people hauler from them in the vein of the Montana (our 2003 in mint condition was just totalled). Since Pontiac is gone the other brand closest in styling and image to it left is Dodge and they have a minivan and other aggressively styled vehicles that appeal to us that are also vastly improved. A Caravan R/T or Durango R/T could be in the future and if anything tragic happened to my G8 GXP I would be looking at a new Charger SRT8 to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      radimus

      Exactly my point. GM had, and I think still has, no clue about branding and brand loyalty. If they did they would see the silliness in sending Buick rebates to Pontiac customers.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @TriShield:I too am a Pontiac person. Although with a screen name like TriShield I would have guessed Buick.

      However, I have looked over the fence at the SS-level Chevys and thought I could find a home there. The low rent Chevys are no worse than the low rent Pontiacs were. Much of that was caused by CAFE, to be sure.

      Also like you, I’d be interested in some of what Mopar offers now, as I’ve had Dodges in the past and had overall good experiences in them. But they have the same issue as Chevy (and Pontiac), it’s only the higher level versions I’d be interested in.

  • avatar
    Ryndee

    @radimus, just to be accurate, we sent $1,000 certificates as an incentive for these owners to purchase a Chevy, Buick, GMC or Cadillac. Pontiac owners did not have to buy a Buick to get the rebate — they just had to buy one of our existing four brands to get it.

    • 0 avatar
      radimus

      Fine, but when it’s clear that GM no longer has any loyalty to a brand, why should the customer expect to keep any brand loyalty to GM?

    • 0 avatar
      nevets248

      sorry, after being a GM second class citizen for over 10 years (a yellow badged contract employee), and a Tier 1 supplier, I could care less about any of the new GM offerings. I looked at the new Regal, and was not impressed.No where near as nice as my GXP G6. Sorry, there will never be a new GM car in my garage. Jsut ask any ex-contract employee who was ahnded a box, or whose parents, being GM (not UAW) retirees, got BOHICA’d by Freeway Fritx and those in the post Red Ink Rick days.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        nevets248….I hear you,and the thousands like you. There’s a lot of bitterness out there. To some degree, I understand and sympathize with you,and your parents.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      It was clearly evident a few years ago that GM had too many brands. Too many dealers, too many plants , and too many employees.

      There is no way to axe employees,brands,dealers and plants, without pi$$ing somebody off.

      As Ryndee pointed, out GM tried to make it right. A $1,OOO Is hardly a fortune but better than f.a.

      Losing buyers to the competion sucks, but it was a price that had to be paid.

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    I inherited a 2003 Saturn LW200 with ~12k miles on it in 2005. It was in many ways a nice car, being essentially and Americanized-Opel. The tires were shot by 18k, and it could not be properly aligned without welding. Electrical problems were numerous including the radio not working unless the driver’s door was *open*, the car alarm going off at random times, and a total loss of electrical power at night in a downpour. Four trips to the shop in the 15k miles and a year later, I decided to ditch the thing. My 12 year old Solara has been in the shop exactly twice in 158k miles with zero breakdowns. Buy a GM product? Unlikely.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Was it an aftermarket alarm system in the Saturn? It isn’t commpletely uncommon for an added alarm to be the source of a car’s electrical problems, not that this mitigates the alignment issues.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        When shopping used cars, I have walked away from a car with an aftermarket alarm or aftermarket remote starter installed.

        They’re a complete deal breaker for me.

      • 0 avatar
        radimus

        Same here, geo. I’ll even walk away from a used car with an aftermarket stereo system.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        If you get bagged for Impaired driving in Ontario, after serving a one year suspension they wire a breathilizer to your electrical system.

        My buddy bought a 06 Vette with massive electrical issues. One of the former owners was a drunk. He thinks, after many $ they have got the gremlins under control.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      Yikes. Sadly, your experience with the L-series was typical. Same for the first years of the Vue. The former General tried to expand the brand too quickly with little regard to quality control while they were doing it.

      Saturn had a good thing going with the S-series. As old and outdated as they were, they were still pretty reliable in their own crude form. It was all downhill from there.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Does anyone know what percentage of Oldsmobile owners were retained? I think the delta will reveal that the bailout cost a meaningful percentage of GM’s loyal customers.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      They are still getting figures from the nursing and funeral homes regarding that…

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      According to a 2009 Automotive News article, within five years of the Oldsmobile shutdown, GM had lost 80 percent of those customers.

      In reality, the company (and the bailout oversight team) was between a rock and a hard place on this one. Yes, some customers were inevitably lost when the brands were eliminated. But keeping those brands required GM to spend precious dollars differentiating shared platforms in ways that only GM loyalists really noticed. The volumes of the individual models weren’t that high – if I recall correctly, combined sales of GM’s midsize models barely matched the sales of the Camry. As a result, even people who don’t know much about cars know what a Camry is, while even many car people had trouble keeping GM’s model offerings straight.

      Multiple brands also diluted the impact of GM’s increasingly limited marketing dollars. GM would spend money to launch the new model, and then abandon it when time came to launch another new model (this is what happened with the Oldsmobile Intrigue and Alero).

      The brutal truth is that GM’s divisions were competiting against themselves for a dwindling number of customers, while lots of people had no intention of seriously shopping ANY GM brand. It’s better for a company to have one or two entries in a segment, and then really work to make sure that it’s a strong effort. It also needs to market and advertise the vehicle effectively and consistently during its entire life cycle.

      With the CTS, Cruze and the Malibu, I get the impression that this message has sunk in at GM. Not so much for the Lambda-platform crossovers, however, which still feature several overlapping versions of one platform.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Fool me once: I bought a Saab 9-3 from GM. It turned out to be bolted together with what must be wood screws, given all the squeaks and rattles. And has an electrical system wired with paperclips and sandwich bag ties, given that major components short out for no apparent reason with great regularity.

    Fool me twice: GM dumps Saab, turning an already faster-than-segment depreciating car into the Titanic’s anchor, plunging for the ocean’s floor.

    Can’t get fooled again: A4, C300, 3-Series. One of these will be the next car in my driveway. If I can convince one of the dealers of these German brands to consider taking the 9-3 as a trade-in.

    • 0 avatar
      mtymsi

      Just before GM dumped SAAB you could buy a new 9-3 for $13-15k. That and the fact that SAAB is still teetering on extinction mean the resale values couldn’t be anything but minimal.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Saturn cars in my mind were never competitive with the imports but if what the Saturn buyers were actually buying was the brand image and sales/service experience it’s easy to see why they have no allegiance to GM.

    Pontiac compact & midsize owners if they were inclined to purchase another GM product I think would be satisfied with Chevrolet or Buick offerings.

    One point nobody mentioned is what effect anti-bailout sentiment played in the dead brands owners decisions not to buy GM.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      One point nobody mentioned is what effect anti-bailout sentiment played in the dead brands owners decisions not to buy GM.

      Another excellent point as well. So true.

      The GM “bois” would rather the bailouts not be mentioned tho. Just like the term “Government Motors”. Both of those deter the mission to clear the 40 years of disgrace that was General motors driven straight into Ch11. I was an apologist/paid shill for them at one point too :) :)

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    GM lost a golden opportunity with Saturn: instead of eliminating Saturn, they could have used the name to revitalize the company’s small cars… much as BMW bought the Mini name, and used the brand image to bring small BMW’s into the marketplace.

  • avatar
    jnik

    I’ve still got my Pontiac and enjoying not making car payments. Not going anywhere.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    ” Saturn was a money looser from day 1. GM’s mistake wasn’t in shutting Saturn down, it was in ever starting the new division in the first place. Trying to fix what was wrong with GM by starting a parallel company within a company was a bad strategic move.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. John Horner wins the unofficial TTAC Comment of the Week. Grand Prize includes seven Chuck E Cheese tokens and free toiletries from the closest Holiday Inn.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      In theory, I agree with you.

      But having worked at a GM division while in college, I saw first-hand how deeply entrenched the “way things have always been” mentality was. GM was “too big to change.”

      Given where GM was at the time, Saturn was a RADICAL departure from the company status-quo, and I’d say that it was a moderate success in that light. The few people that I knew who owned one really loved them.

      I agree with the poster above; Saturn should have been kept and used as the “small, sporty, fun” brand.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        If Saturn were sold under Oldsmobile like Scion under Toyota, or Geo under Chevy, I’d agree. As an Olds-killer, it’s unforgivable.

        And if GM had booted Roger in time, and changed *back* to division-led design, Pontiac & Olds would still be around.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ll buy a Regal GS full sticker if I can kick Max Bob square in the nuts.

  • avatar
    loguesmith

    When GM pulled the plug on Saturn, I had three of them – ’03 L300 V6, ’06 ION 2, ’08 VUE XR AWD.

    Two of the three are now gone … the L300 was traded in for a MINI and the VUE for a Mazda CX-7. This despite every effort made by both GM corporate and my local “Authorized Saturn Service Center” to get my business.

    Just wasn’t anything from GM that appealed to us.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Vanilladude is mostly right on target. Bought our first Saturn SL in 1996 after seeing it at the Houston car show. Most of the maintenance stuff looked like it was designed by a mechanic. Got 45 or more mpg on highway trips. Took lots of cargo through the rear hatch. Plastic body meant scratches hardly existed. Rear ended by a full size truck resulted in just the bumper getting replaced. A dealer that didn’t nickel and dime you to death. Our family owned several. Then came 2002 and we fell in love with the new Opel Vue with the Saturn name tag. Nobody told us that Saturn was really dead. We found out the hard way. Clutch slave cylinders that cost $650 to have installed. A transmission that died (that never happens we were told). Air conditioning compressor that cratered before long. So many computer replacements that I don’t remember. The last one was a body computer under the dash. I decided my wife could not drive it any more and we looked for another. Just to prove that she bore no grudges, my wife decided on another Saturn Vue. This one a 2007 with a honda engine. They really were like two different brands. I took the 2002. The timing chain broke without notice and this would have been $900 to see if it were broken. Well the 2007 went for a Nissan cube and I still laugh every time I drive it. The 2002 was junked out and I bought a secondhand S10 in spite of it being GM. For those of you that think Vanilladude might be a little girl because he drove a Saturn I would be happy to explain the difference between transportation and genetalia (probably a waste of time). He is also right that the service provided by Saturn was as compelling as the vehicles until the Opel stench became overwhelming. The identity of the brand is less compelling than the tendency to engineer for repair complexity and increased cost. The SL was my modern day VW beetle and I was not happy to see it go. I did not realize that it was the last real Saturn made.


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