Saturn Rethinks "Rethink American"

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

I recently visited the Saturn website to check on an Astra factoid. I was surprised to discover that the brand has dropped the "American" part of their "Rethink American" advertising strapline. It's now just "Rethink," with various bits added as and when needed (e.g. Rethink Hybrids). The idea of a generic prefix, followed by a campaign-specific suffix, is not new. Mercedes dropped it's "Engineered like no other car in the world" shtick a long while ago, in favor of a revolving series of "FILL IN THE BLANK like no other car in the world" pronouncements. Nissan has been shifting this and that for some time now, from Expectations to, uh, I can't remember. Which is the problem. While a flexible strapline certainly helps the marketing mavens, like any brand extension, a one-size-doesn't-fit-all marketing solution weakens the impact of the original, highly-focused brand promise. In fact, none of these automakers keep their strapline front and center on their web pages. In any case, Saturn's shift in my expectations got me to re-thinking like no other journalist in the world. What IS a Saturn? I rang up Kyle Johnson, Saturn's Director of Communications, to ask him about the streamlined strapline, cupholders and Saturn's Unique Selling Point.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Davey49 Davey49 on Dec 23, 2007

    Kyle Johnson- I'm not sure it was a good strategy to hold the 4 cylinder back. A lot of people who would have bought 4 cylinder Auras probably ended up in Japanese brand cars or Fusions.

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Dec 23, 2007

    Kyle Johnson: thanks for your time with us. Considering Saturn's premium branding I'd have to agree with the strategy with initially going V6 only. I'd consider going a step further, making the 3.6L and the I-4 Hybrid the only engines available. (not a big fan of the 3.5L, or the 2.8L that it came from) That might narrow your scope too much, but it would really help position the brand against the Malibu.

  • Jthorner Jthorner on Dec 23, 2007

    "If they’d been left alone by the mother company, and allowed to maintain their original focus, they might well have turned a profit long ago. The trouble started when the GM pulled them back into the mother ship." Sorry, but that isn't true. Saturn was unable to make enough profits from their venture to re-invest in more models or any updates. Most reports said that in the first 10-15 years of Saturn's existence it consistently lost money. Saturn's substantial start-up capital all came from GM's treasury, which meant that said money wasn't available to invest in the historic GM brands. The only way for Saturn to get new models was to be brought under the GM corporate product development and sourcing system. Had Saturn been a stand alone start up automotive company they would have had to close the doors or sell out. The beginning and the resuscitation of Saturn's product portfolio all came courtesy of the cash and expertise within GM. The initial design work and engineering was all done by the GM corporate staff and then handed over when Saturn was set up. I know that early on Saturn had a lot of passionate fans and that those fans were disenchanted when the mother ship took over, but the only alternative was to shut it down. Saturn had lost money forever and was not capable of designing and building the range of products it would need to compete. Personally I still think Saturn never should have been started and should not have been resuscitated. Think about it this way. GM is in even more trouble as a business today than it was in 1984, the year they took the decision to launch Saturn as a company-within-the-company. GM has the same number of car brands in the US market today as it did in 1984 (subtract Oldsmobile, add Saturn). Does anyone think that the way GM should get it's house in order today is to start a stand-alone subsidiary corporation with a new name, a new factory, a clean sheet car design, a new proprietary engine and a whole new dealer network? If it was a great idea in 1984, why isn't it a great idea to do it again today?

  • KixStart KixStart on Jan 03, 2008

    I'd agree, more or less, with Sajeev. A 224hp 3.5L pushrod V6 and 4-speed transmsission is not in keeping with "premium brand" identity. The premium end of the competition is 260hp DOHC engines with many-speed transmissions. If the Aura's a premium vehicle, they should tick to premium drivetrains. And the BAS hybrid package should be deliverable at low enough cost to Saturn that it can be the "fuel efficient" drivetrain for this premium car without pricing it in Camry hybrid territory.