In a 1992 op-ed that appeared in the Indianapolis Star and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I expounded on the predictions of the MIT-based authors of “The Machine That Changed the World”, and lean production. I cited that book, and Consumer Reports’ glowing review of the Saturn as evidence that real competition could make the U.S. auto industry great once again. Subsequently, I bought a Saturn, which ultimately proved inferior in durability to the car I had shopped it against, the Integra. Looking back more than two decades, how have we succeeded, and how have we failed, and how did the MIT authors’ predictions hold up?
Few experts would have predicted that an all new American car could have matched the first year reliability of the Toyotas and Hondas, the best of the Japanese. Yet General Motors’ Saturn did just that, according to the April Consumer Reports.
On top of that, the car has all the practical appeal of the old Volkswagen Beetle. The plastic body panels are built to take parking lot abuse without denting or scratching. But damaged panels can be replaced easily and inexpensively. How many people does it take to change a headlight on a Saturn? Just one, and it’s as easy as changing a lightbulb.