Saturn Aura Vs. Toyota Camry Vs. Honda Accord Vs. Reality

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

So Ford runs an ad campaign pitting an all wheel-drive Fusion against a front wheel-drive Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. An invited group of customers scores the Fusion tops in styling, handling, performance and “fun to drive.” Emboldened by Ford’s “dare to compare” strategy, Saturn decides to launch a “Side-by-Side-by-Side Test Drive.” Dealers are instructed to offer customers some seat time in the Aura, Camry and Accord. It’s gutsy! It’s feisty! It’s ridiculous.

First of all, these comparo campaigns are a major mitzvah for Toyota and Honda. As far as public perception is concerned, if Ford and Saturn are working their butts off to prove that their mid-sized sedans are as good as (i.e. better than) the Camry and Accord, then the Camry and Accord must be pretty damn good. These “hey what about us?” ads seal the transplants’ rep as market leaders.

That’s not good. The vast majority of customers are driven by a desire for safety; to buy the product or service that carries the least risk. In their mind, that’s always going to be the market leader. Ask Apple or any other company that’s tried to dethrone the top product in its field: product excellence loses out to massive market share every time.

In fact, the only way to knock a dominant product off its perch is… to knock the dominant product off its perch. In other words, saying your Fusion or Aura is better than a Camry or Accord ain’t gonna cut it— even if they are better. Your only chance of stealing market share from the top dog is to remove the consumers’ feelings of safety. Not to put too fine a point on it, Ford and Saturn have to convince car buyers the Camcord sucks.

Only it doesn’t. Which means this comparo stuff is the marketing equivalent of pissin' in the wind.

Lest we forget, The Big Three used to own the U.S. auto industry. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, VW, Mercedes and BMW came in with better products. So what? The domestic market was Detroit’s to lose. And lose it they did. A few decades of crap products and even worse service literally handed the American car market to the transplants. If GM, Ford and Chrysler didn’t suck in their own right, the transplants would still be nibbling at the margins.

And speaking of automakers that ripped out their consumers’ hearts (and wallets) and stomped on them until their formerly loyal customers RAN to the competition, what are the chances your average consumer is going to trust a Saturn salesman to provide a valid test of an Aura versus a Camry and Accord?

I know, I know: Saturn are the shiny, happy plastic people (well, they used to be plastic). No haggle. Honest as the day is long. But people HATE car dealers; they trust them about as far as they can teleport them (if only).

So, Saturn dude, you’re going to let me drive an identically equipped Aura, Camry and Accord? Uh, no.

According to Saturn’s website, customers can compare an Aura XE with preferred package, a Camry LE and an Accord Special Edition. The list prices are close enough for rock and roll, but just like Ford’s all wheel-drive versus front wheel-drive comparo, we’re looking at an apples vs. pears test: V6 power and optional 17" wheels (Aura) vs. two four-cylinder powerplants with standard 16" wheels (Camry and Accord).

Hmm. Would a customer looking at a frugal four cylinder Camry (21/30 mpg) or Accord (21/31mpg) really cross-shop a four-speed slushbox-equipped V6 Aura (18/28 mpg)? Conversely, would a customer looking for a smooth running V6 really consider a V6 Aura over a six cylinder Camry or Accord just to save a few thousand at the time of purchase (which depreciation would sort out later)?

Anyway, who can be bothered? It seems self-evident that only the most anal car shopper has the time or inclination to take three test drives in a row– and these are the sort of people who will probably prefer the Camry and Accord for their superior refinement, fit and finish and resale value.

Even before the Saturn’s side-by-side-by-side goes seriously sideways, Chevy’s making noises about bringing a Camry into their dealerships this fall for a Malibu vs. Camry shootout. Why not the Accord? It may have something to do with the fact that they’d rather have the new Malibu face the mid-cycle Camry rather than the brand spanking new Accord.

Detroit would have you believe that these promotions reflect a new, combative spirit. You can almost hear “We’re not gonna take it” echoing off the empty showroom walls. But if you look closely, it’s all just a bit of down market deviousness. TTAC will deploy its test driving team and report back. Watch this space.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Johnson Johnson on Jun 17, 2007
    "Johnson, Sajeev is not quoting things he “heard” on the internet about the newest Camry, he actually reviewed the car." ------- Your point is? I've thoroughly driven and sat in many new Camrys, including the V6 SE. Styling may be subjective, but handling certainly is not. The new Camry having better handling over the old generation is not mere opinion; it is objective fact.
  • Jaje Jaje on Jun 18, 2007

    The Accord is the nimbler car of the midsized sedans. I'm not really sure you've driven one with the "numb" comment as it has excellent feedback, plus handling has always has been major trait of the Accord car. You don't have to believe me but the Accord has been on C&Ds 10 best list for 20+ times with their major praise for those several decades of how well it handles compared to the competition. Now, I have a question. If you are at the Saturn dealer, will they sell you the Camry or Accord? Great way to increase sales at Saturn by selling the #1 & #2 cars in the US. Also nice that Honda/Toyota get a nice bump of 1,000+ cars for Saturn dealers and when they start putting them in the Chevy showrooms it'll be nice that GM will purchase another 5,000 Camry & Accord's each. Now what will when the all new Accord hits the street in September? They will have to buy them too (at sticker) or be looked at funny as having the older model and look like they are pulling the wool over your eyes. Will they buy new Camry & Accord's each year to have the current model year or let them sit and probably get bashed and abused by the employees then sit them next to a brand new Aura. Saturn's got to look better then.

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
  • Ronin What is the magical white swan event in the foreseeable future that will suddenly reverse the trend?Success tends to follow success, and likewise failure. The perception, other than among true believers, is that e-cars are a lost cause. Neither government fiat, nor government bribery, nor even the promise of superior virtue among one's peers have been enough to push past the early adapter curve. Either the bust-out is right now for e-cars, or it doesn't happen. Marketing 101.Even subtle language-manipulation, such as deeming those possessing common sense as suffering from some sort of vague anxiety (eg, "range anxiety") has not been enough to induce people to care.Twenty years from now funny AI-generated comedians will make fun of the '20s, and their obsession with theose silly half-forgotten EVs. They will point out that, yes, EVs actually ran on electricity generated by such organic fuels as coal and natural gas after all, and then they will perform synthesized laughter at us.