By on May 13, 2008

sky-high.jpgDoes the head of Saturn have photos of important movers and shakers with goats? How else can you explain Saturn’s survival? All that’s left of GM’s “different kind of car company” is the same old spray of red ink. From import fighter to importer of Americanized Opels, Saturn’s been an abject failure for decades. And yet, GM’s has deemed Saturn one of their three “sales channels.” While there are few (non-goat-related) “image” reasons for Saturn to continue, a close look at the numbers shows its defense lies in what can be done, not what people [re]think.

There’s no two ways about it: Saturn has lost its “mindshare.” All those fond memories of American pride, homecomings, dealer barbecues, friendly sales folk and dent-proof plastic panels have faded away. Spring Hill has sprung. But then,let's keep Saturn's lost branding in perspective. GM’s “gang of three” (Pontiac, Buick, GMC; Saab, Hummer, Cadillac) doesn’t have much brand equity either.

Pontiac is defined by a handful of hot cars built because division-heads grew tired of flogging posh Chevies. Buick has history, but it hasn’t been a credible “luxe” car for anyone under 60 for 30 years or more. GMC is another exercise in “keeping the Chevies down.” And Cadillac is wandering all over the map, offering gilded pickups, bling SUVs and Nurburgring-fettled European-style sports sedans.

Equally important, Saturn hasn’t pissed in its customers’ cornflakes. Saturn remains relatively free from the incendiary “I’ll never buy a GM product again” consumer frustration with lousy build quality and disinterested dealers (a.k.a. the "perception gap"). In that sense, the brand’s amorphous rep offers a far better recovery point than the rest of GM's brands (save Hummer).

In fact, Saturn dealers have consistently exceeded their customer’s expectations. In customer satisfaction surveys, Saturn’s dealer network scores well above GM’s other brands– and many imports. Saturn dealers are carefully chosen (even company-owned where the law allows). And best of all, there aren’t too many of them. 

In today’s fragmented car market, a small number (435) of single-franchise dealers (90 percent) is a very good thing indeed. While Saturn’s sales aren’t setting the world on fire, their per-dealer sales are comparable to Chevy’s (about 550 vehicles per dealer a year). In comparison, the combined averages of Buick/Pontiac/GMC (BPG) dealers rack-up about 400 vehicles sales per dealer (Toyota and Honda average well over a thousand). 

Fewer, stronger dealers make controlling image and holding the line on promotions a much easier proposition. It’s worth noting that the Saturn Sky has nowhere near the lot problems of its near-relation the Solstice. With only 400-odd dealerships, a Saturn dealer would have confidence that if he asked for a Sky, he would get it. Pontiac dealers, less sure of new supplies, marked their first Solsti to the skies and killed sales momentum dead.

Saturn dealers may be strong, but it’s there are some real heavyweights in the BPG mix. The top 400 “combo” dealers– the top 20 percent– are at least as big as the Saturn dealers. So why would GM cull its BPG dealers— a rumor currently swirling around Motown– to protect a brand they’ve never really liked or understood? 

Simply put, if The General kills “any” dealers, they have to kill all of them. There’s no legally defensible way to separate “good” B/P/G dealers from the deadweight. The [epic] legal bills involved in killing 2000 dealerships would be far greater if GM tried to only kill the “worst” 1500. Whole lines have to be killed en masse.

Turning Saturn into “Opel West” may have been one of the least successful product strategies GM’s launched in a long time (and that’s saying something), but it has a silver lining. It separates Saturn from Chevy. Without B/P/G, without having to worry about stepping on corporate toes or badge-engineered clones, Chevy could begin to resemble the “full” car line it claims to be– instead of diving for the bargain basement.

Saturn would have space to become… something. This website has suggested Saturn become GM’s “green brand,” offering a range of all alt. power vehicles (the plug-in Saturn Vue is scheduled to proceed the Chevy Volt). Alternatively, Saturn could become the “stylish” alternative for more discerning (and well-heeled) buyers, a sort of “Atlantic Mazda.” Yes, this would place Saturn close to the classic Oldsmobile image, before that brand was killed off. But tempus fugit. 

Simple mathematics suggests it’s not time to give up on Saturn. Despite its incoherent branding, misfiring marketing, non-competitive products and declining sales, GM executives must know that the division looks more like where they want to go than any of GM’s other stores. Of course, to get from here to there, GM needs to find a way to make money off Saturn— a goal that has eluded them since January 7, 1985, the day the brand was launched See? There’s always a catch.     

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59 Comments on “In Defense of… Saturn...”

  • avatar

    And just as importantly, since all Saturns are going to be or already are straight rebadges of Opels, it costs GM nothing to slap a Saturn badge in place of the Opel badge. Probably even cheaper than Ford’s differentiation of Mercury!

  • avatar

    @dwford: Good point, though the exchange rate is killing them right now. Simple enough to produce Opels stateside, once they get everything moving

  • avatar

    I disagree. Saturn was a stupid idea from day one. It’s mission statement was (paraphrasing) “fight Euro and Japanese cars”. Why couldn’t Chevrolet do this?

    The Japanese stuck to a simple formula of “cheap, reliable cars” and only later did they add “quality” into the mix. Chevrolet could have very easily added this to their brand.

    Toyota haven’t brought out a brand to compete with the “american muscle car”, they just tweak the styling of their brand to the market they are in, whilst retaining the core values of “cheap, reliable, quality cars”.

    I personally, believe that Saturn was borne out of frustration. People were leaving GM to Euro and Japanese marques and Roger Smith thought that “if we create a new brand, it’ll sustain their interests long enough to stay at GM”.

    If you look at a lot of Saturn’s line up, it could very easily be divided amongst GM’s (bloated) portfolio.

    And another reason why Saturn is a stupid idea is that if people want to buy a Euro or Japanese car, they’ll buy a Euro or Japanese car. It’s like if VW came out with an American muscle car (i.e plenty of power and just a bit rough around the edges. Which I mean in a good way) then it would be just a plain imitation, nothing more.

    One reason we buy foreign cars, is because we like that taste of something new or foreign. That’s why we buy designer clothes from Europe. It’s something different…..

    Well, that’s what I think…..

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    At this point, the cost to kill Saturn ($1 billion dollar dealer franchise termination payoff per Oldsmobile, unused production capacity, bad publicity) outweighs the cost to keep it alive (threadbare R&D via Opel/GMDAT + Lambda badge engineering, goodwill from the 1990’s, revenue stream as pitiful as it may be), that it’s not unreasonable to keep it going.

    Problem is, where can GM make the big cuts? withering BPG the same way Cerberus is trying to consolidate DCJ, starving each individual brand down to one or two products, and letting weak dealers die on the vine?

  • avatar

    My very first car was an Opel Kadet which my father bought for me at a Buick dealer. It was in the shop all the time. It is the worst car I have ever had — hands down.

    If you are trying to create and maintain a different kind of car company you don’t rebadge cars. You design and create your own.

    My dad had a Buick Riveria with a rattle. The cause was a GM coffee cup in vent duct. GM wanted to charge to remove it because the car was out of warranty. I appealed to the regional GM rep. He laughed and asked me to send him the coffee cup. Only after multiple letters and phone calls would GM pay to remove their mistake. My dad didn’t much care. The cost wasn’t much. I was outraged at GM’s lack of concern for its quality and its customers. I have never bought a GM car and expect I never will. And I recently told this story to a retired GM Executive who was in charge of their transmissions. He turned red and said nothing.

  • avatar

    If you consider that Saturn was an attempt to escape their small car Karma resultant from years of Vegas, Chevettes, Citations, and 80s Cavaliers. In that sense, it has been successful. Many early buyers are still faithful, because they had S1s that racked up 150,000 miles fewer problems than a new Chevette would encounter by its first oil change. They did change perceptions. Was it enough? Nah, but it did change minds.

    Were they were unsuccessful was in getting that perception change to rub off on the rest of GM, and in generating high sales numbers. Here’s the irony considering the article today. Most people I’ve known that wanted to buy a Saturn but didn’t skipped it because they would have had to drive anywhere from 30-150+ miles to the nearest dealer, and they weren’t going to do that. It’s the same thing that holds back VW and Subaru in much of the southwest as well.

  • avatar

    I bought a 1991 SL-1 when they first came out. It was a good car for the money. Not perfect, it had a lot of engine vibration, the radio was shit, and the brakes had troubles (so did a lot of GM cars) but I liked it. 4 years later I sold it and got 72% of what I paid for it. Awesome resale. It got 38 MPG regularly, was ergonomically well designed, and the dent proof side panels were an excellent idea. You don’t see them all dinged up and they can’t rust.

    I was the first one at my company to buy one, I gave test rides at lunch. Several people I work with bought them and all were happy not just with the car, but the dealer.

    An Acura driving friend told me the Acura dealer would detail his car, cleaning the rugs and treating the tires when he had it in for service. He laughed that GM would never do that. When the brakes went out and GM fixed it under warranty, they detailed it. My friend bought a Saturn a month later, trading in his Acura for an SL-2

    I think they have the right idea on the dealer end. The problem is making Saturns in this country with UAW labor. Also, how can Saturn stretch their legs when hampered by RenCen?

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    And just as importantly, since all Saturns are going to be or already are straight rebadges of Opels

    The Astra is a Opel rebadge. And? That’s the only Opel I see in Saturn’s range.

  • avatar

    Mirko—-In addtion to the Astra, the Vue is an Opel rebadge and to a lesser degree the Aura.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    The Aura has a similar front end styling to the Opel Vectra, but shares nothing else. No drivetrains, no common interor parts, completely different car on the same platform.
    The Vue isn’t an Opel rebadge either. The exterior looks like the Opel Antara, but that’s a Daewoo anyway and not a real Opel. It’s as European as kimchee made to look like sauerkraut. The Vue doesn’t share drivetrains or interior parts with the Antara.
    See the Opel/Vauxhall interior here:
    Saturn interior here:

    The only real Opel rebadge is the Astra.

  • avatar

    Perhaps Saturn could survive if it actually offered an S1/S2 type vehicle again. The Saturn / Opel / Vauxhall / Holden Astra is too expensive for what it is, and is a stop-gap to replace the sucky and awful Saturn Ion.

    Perhaps GM should simply ask Toyota for permission to assemble/rebadge the Toyota Avensis (mfd. in the UK, available as a 4 door sedan and a 4 door station wagon as well as 5 door hatchback) as a new Saturn S-7 (may as well go with the flow) at the NUMMI plant in California.

    This shares the platform with the Scion Tc. It’s a good enough car to beat the tar out of just about anything GM has developed in the line of small cars for – well, for ever. It’s also big enough and different enough to differentiate it from the Astra line. Which GM build in lower cost Poland – what’s wrong with supplying Saturn from the Polish plant (other than the inevitable bad jokes)?

  • avatar

    [KatiePuckrik :
    May 13th, 2008 at 7:44 am

    I disagree. Saturn was a stupid idea from day one. It’s mission statement was (paraphrasing) “fight Euro and Japanese cars”. Why couldn’t Chevrolet do this?]

    The Vega.

    GM knew its history of building dismal small cars would keep import buyers out of its showrooms. Rebadging captive imports wasn’t the answer. Saturn was as far as it could go to create a new brand without baggage. It was also a chance to build a new dealer network focussed on the customer. The emphasis on service and the no-haggle price policy were intended to remove two of the most unpleasant experiences people have inside car dealerships.

    Saturn was an admission that GM was broken. It was deliberately set up as a company within a company that would show the parent how things could be done differently. Roger Smith is thought of as inept but he knew that GM had to change massively in order to survive. It’s worth recalling just how big a project Saturn was and how much was riding on it. It was never as successful as Smith hoped because it was created just as GM’s market share started a long term decline that has lasted for most of a generation now. Whatever effectiveness it had was offset by adding to GM’s clutter as fewer sales were spread over more divisions and brands. Now Saturn is rebadging imports, albiet GM imports.

  • avatar

    I agree that Saturn has great potential. Saturn had a great thing going for them…an image as an affordable, fuel-efficient, quirky and relatively reliable American small car with unique features (plastic dent and rust-free panels, etc.). They were a brand positioned perfectly to take advantage of becoming an environmentally focused, or focusing on their new retail methods, etc…all great ideas.

    GM killed Saturn’s rep by starving them of development funds, and not updating/replacing cars and/or rebadging existing vehicles. The first LS, in effect the first Opel/Saturn (late 90’s), is what began the watering of the brand, and was by nearly all measures a horrible car (terrible interior, poor quality record, etc). I think they can survive and I rather like their current product lineup, but they need to tie their products around an idea and refocus the brand. To “rethink American” is nothing but an insult when their new cars are European (Astra) and/or Korean (Vue). I do see a great opportunity for them to become an environmentally-focused brand, with hybrids and high mpg models and technology. Unfortunately, the VUE is a heavy pig and GM’s technology in the hybrid field is either too weak (mild hybrid) or too expensive (dual-mode or li-ion).

  • avatar


    As much as I respect your opinion, I have to disagree.

    In Toyota and Honda’s early days (and I mean REALLY early days), they made utter rubbish. Unreliable rust buckets. Detroit laughed at them, but they didn’t give up. They went back to the drawing board and started over again.

    A more recent example is Toyota in Europe. For years, they’ve tried to beat the Ford Focus, the Vauxhall Astra and the Volkswagen Golf in creating a successful mid-sized hatchback. The Corolla was a good car, but it never really caught the imagination of European buyers. Then, they gave up on the Corolla name and went with the new “Auris”. After years of trying, Toyota are finally stepping in the right direction.

    Likewise, with Chevrolet, because they flopped once or twice, it should have been more impoteus to get the formula right.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Mirko Reinhardt: I’m afraid I don’t see an overwhelming difference in those interior pictures. The center stack is different as it’s got GM’s standard North American head unit instead of the Opel one, but that’s about it. The powertrain does share one engine (the 224hp V6 in the XE AWD), but the Vue gets a stronger base 4 and the optional high-feature V6, which I’d expect to show up as an Antara GTC at some point. And while the engineering was primarily done in South Korea, it’s not exactly a Daewoo with an Opel (or Saturn) logo stuck on it. Those Koreans fake an awfully good German accent.

    The Sky is rebadged the other way around. It’s sold as the Opel GT in Europe.

    The new Opel Insignia is widely expected to replace the Aura in a few years’ time. While I wish the Aura was just a rebadged Vectra, the marketing folks probably thought that it was too small to play in the US midsize market.

    I also remember reading that the Outlook was offered to Opel, but they passed as they felt they didn’t need such a large car. (Who does?)

  • avatar

    KatiePuckrik : good dicussion.

    I wouldn’t disagree at all. However, I think Smith believed that it was it was impossible to get the formula right within GM’s existing culture. Saturn’s intended role as the beacon that would show how GM had to change was as important as its role building small cars. I don’t know if Smith was right, or if Saturn was the best way to change GM.

    You’re right about the poor quality of early Japanese cars. Despite it, there were important successes. The Datsun 510 rusted as badly as any Fiat but it won an enthusiastic following as the poor driver’s BMW 2002. The early 70s Corona was reliable and durable, for the time. The Corolla from the same period impressed people for the power it had. The Japanese got away with poor cars partly because good cars were rare back then. The first oil crisis was a lucky break — they had the right cars in the right place at the right time.

    They’re having a tougher time getting established in Europe, partly because they haven’t had the same type of break. If European governments get serious about carbon taxing and green transportation the Japanese just might catch a break there if they are further ahead than the European makers. My impression is they are — the Europeans have concentrated on diesels which I don’t think has a brighter future than gas engines.

  • avatar

    That’s the thing with Japanese companies. If they screw up a car, they take a step back, analyze what they did wrong, and correct their mistakes. Great examples are the Tundra, and minivans. Toyota sold the Previa in the early 90s, and it didn’t do all that well against the Chrysler vans. Then they came out with the Sienna and have been improving it with every generation. Same thing with the Odyssey. It started out as an Accord based van with car doors. It didn’t do all that well, so Honda re-designed it to compete and outsell the American minivans. As a result, Ford and GM have given up on minivans, and Toyota and Honda vans are everywhere. If the American companies were staffed with people that are as driven as the Japanese companies, they would actually be able to offer some competition back to Honda and Toyota.

    If they kept Saturns refreshed and competitive, GM probably would have truly had a brand that could have been competitive against Japanese brands. But like usual, they let the designs age and they didn’t get the needed updates. Instead of counting the money they saved on development costs, they would have been better off to spend it and keep the cars competitive. But that would mean long term planning, and we can’t have any of that at GM!

  • avatar

    I agree with menno about the S1, and S2. Maybe Saturn should have used those model names for the Astra. I also agree with the editorial. Saturn unlike the other GM brands has a lot of residual goodwill still left and most importantly they have the right dealer network size and generally speaking the best of the dealers.

  • avatar

    I remember the Saturn hype from the 80’s. Saturn as a concept, brand, phenomena, was pushed like the best next thing since sliced bread. It was supposed to single-handedly revolutionize the entire american car-industry. “We’ve reinvented the automobile” was their slogan. GM put billions and billions of dollars in the project. Instead of relying on the then new J-Cars underpinnings, they created a whole new car, from the ground up. The plan was to beat the japanese at their own game, and to do so, they had the reinvent the wheel. Or so thay said. That hype is quite reminiscent of todays Chevy Volt-vapourware. But what happened to the idea? It was a beautiful concept. And then came the Saturn SL.

    The problem with Saturn as a brand is those high expectations of beating the crap out of the japanese with actual good products. Have they ever delivered? Saturns were cheap, but were they good? What happened to the r&d? Starvation seems to be the name of the game…

    But, as several people have stated earlier, Saturn is still a Tabula Rasa. Saturn could be everything and anything. Rebadged Kias, Opels, Daewoos. Rebadged Russian/Indian/Chinese built whatevers. As long as everybody knows that Saturn could sell anything in the worldwide GM-portfolio, doing so in an honest open way would actually be a good idea. Why is there such things as a Chevrolet Aveo and a Pontiac Vibe? Those and the complete Isuzu line-up could be sold under the Saturn umbrella. Let the american brands stay true to their american heritage. Chevrolet is supposed to be cars like the Malibu and up to the Corvette and trucks. Let Saturn be all that those brands are not.

  • avatar

    No offense to anyone, but most the people I have known that bought Saturns were women. It seems Saturn is a brand that appeals to young women.

    I always thought the plastic body panels were a good idea. If only they fit better. That is what made Saturn different.

    Now it’s just another GM brand.

  • avatar

    brettc: Same thing with the Odyssey. It started out as an Accord based van with car doors. It didn’t do all that well, so Honda re-designed it to compete and outsell the American minivans.

    There is a whole class of diminutive people movers in Europe which the original Odyssey would fit well. Maybe it did fit well and Honda tried to sell it here too. I don’t know. I think the current Mazda5 may be very closely related to the Ford S-Max.

    America is a very finicky market. We talk about wanting something different but when examples arrive we generally continue to buy the same things as before. Big SUVs, small sedans when a small hatchback would be more useful, big pickups, etc. I’m afraid we are a nation of “sheeple”.

    An example of the herd mentality would be SUVs. The world market offers a long list of excellent wagons equally capable of hauling a family in style while weighing 4K lbs or less but we Americans “need” (want) something huge and 4WD. Not a mere car, but off-road 10K lbs of towing capacity (in case we buy a boat), 4WD in case it ever snows, etc. etc.

    So is it the marketting people telling us we “need” to be able to see over the other traffic (but can you really see anything if the traffic is mostly SUVs?) or is it the auto manufacturers adjusting to sell what we think we need or a combination of both?

    Right now the herd is over feeding near the Asian car dealers and Saturn is getting no love despite being as good as any other regular car. They are not a class leader, but they are fine vehicles all the same.

    I would think GM really needs Saturn to be their North American outlet for Opel. Sell vehicles big and small there, cars and people movers. Their marketing department needs to work hard at teaching the typical Detroit consumer how to appreciate a smaller, more efficient vehicles.

    Again GM has dealers working against each other. Will people go to a place which sells Saturns whether or not Saturn has good products? If the consumers are ignoring Saturn due to past impressions GM is going to have to work hard to get people to notice them again.

    Once again this is where GM could do well to consider GM super-centers where all GM brands can be purchased. I think even virtual twins might sell when placed side by side as people begin to see the brands more of a difference in styling details vs difference in whole vehicles. Okay this is a Pontiac and this is a Saturn. We realize this is the same car but I like the Saturn logo better than the Pontiac logo or I like the Pontiac interior better than the Saturn interior. Just like the differences in trim packages.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    I second Ingvar’s proposal: Sell the cheap entry-level international stuff from Korea, China, India, wherever at Saturn. That’s what Suzuki was trying to do at the end.

    As pointed out in a recent posting here, as buyers trade down to smaller cars, they can be more content rich, and hope to turn a profit. That’s where Chevy needs to be.

    But sell the barebones econo-boxes as Saturns.

    Farago’s proposal to turn Saturn into the green brand is too late; green needs to be everywhere, especially in Chevy showrooms. It would have been a good idea five or ten years ago.

    Katie P: Japanes cars in the seventies were NOT junk. Yes, they rusted in the rust belt like everyone’s cars back then. Rust prevention technology just wasn’t fully developed then. But the mechanical integrity was at a consistently higher level, despite some random weaknesses.

    And its absolutely clear that Detroit was NOT “laughing at them” in the late sixties. They were extremely concerned, which is why they spent billions on the Vega and Pinto.

  • avatar

    Paul Niedermeyer,

    I strongly doubt that Detroit were taking the Japanese “seriously” if the best they could offer against them, was the Vega and Pinto!

    I’d hazard a guess that it was more a cynical marketing ploy to show the market that Detroit were “on the ball”. Unfortunately, what Detroit DIDN’T bank on (and, indeed, a mistake they’ve continually made) is that they underestimated the market.

    As for Toyotas not being junk. I’d call a car which rusts to buggery junk! If I bought a jumper and it unravelled itself, I’d be pretty annoyed! In the mid to late seventies, the Rust prevention technology WAS there. I know because the company I work for is the market leader of this kind of technology. I regularly work on formulations for the company.

  • avatar

    How is the Opel West strategy all that different than the Oldsmobile Euro-fighter strategy?

    The biggest problem for the Opel strategy is that Saturn was launched as an American apple pie company and so the advertising is muddled. The lame ads aren’t very interesting or dynamic, because the main attraction should be that these are European cars with fast, sporty dynamics – the opposite of apple pie. They would also to have rebadged Opels for real versus the half-assed versions they did.

    So GM flubbed the execution. If they were going to go European, they should have gone all the way and had pictures of their cars being driven by Germans around the ‘ring. It would have hurt some of their brand equity, but it would probably have appealed to the Mazda/VW crowd.

    Then again, it is not like GM can handle any of its brands at all. Personally I could care less if the company sinks at this point, they have had decades to get it right and have repeatedly shown they aren’t interested in actually trying to sell cars. They lack the will to go through the immense amounts of slashing and cutting needed to get back to a sane company.

  • avatar

    Saturn used to have two things going for it as far as customers were concerned, no haggle pricing and dent resistant body panels. In addition Saturn supported a user group similar to Harley Davidson’s H.O.G. with rallys and pcinics for owners of these “special” vehicles. GM let all that die, now Saturn is just another one of GMs crummy badges that should be put down along with Pontiac because they’ll never find their way back.

  • avatar

    I think Saturn can work as another brand to sell Opels through (like Vauxhall in the UK, which is Opel with a different name) if given time to get people used to it and craft the image in America. That would give Saturn a very distinctly different product lineup from the other GM brands as well as help cultivate it’s unique image.

    It would also help if GM actually sold Opels through Saturn instead of cars that are styled like them. The Aura is an uglier Malibu, it is nowhere near as good looking inside and out as the Vectra. Saturn really needs to be selling the same car with the same name as Opel and using a similar website, brochure and advertising designs to solidify the marriage.

    If you look at Opel’s website and all the neat little German cars they sell (Daewoo SUV and Yankee roadster not withstanding) I can see it catching on as sort of a weird, American Volkswagen type brand.

    The key is assembling those Opels here or somewhere to keep the costs low and advertise, advertise and advertise some more.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    It would also help if GM actually sold Opels through Saturn instead of cars that are styled like them

    Exactly my point.

    The Aura is an uglier Malibu, it is nowhere near as good looking inside and out as the Vectra.

    The Vectra is many things, but good looking is not among those. The wagon and hatchback are OK-ish, bot the sedan makes eyes hurt, or as Bob Lutz said: “The Vectra, although an excellent automobile, looks a little too bland. When one sees a Vectra, your wallet isn’t likely to open… this will change with future models.”

    Seriously, the Vectra is boring, and if you drive one, that’s what people will think of you.

  • avatar

    The one and only way Japanese makes made any dent into the US market was to offer superior reliability, superior rustproofness, and lower cost.

    Most American laughed at Hondas and Toyotas and Datsuns in the early 70s. But when your Vega (or Cougar, or LTD, or…) rusted into oblivion in only two or three years when you lived through rustbelt winters, you began to look around.

    When your Vega’s A-pillars self-disintegrated after a winter or two of roadsalt, despite your paying another 5-10% of your new vehicle price for rustproofing, and the manufacturer may (or may not) have offered you a (secret) partial refund for the work, you began to look around.

    The Toyotas resisted rust a whole lot more. Even the Datsuns did. By the 80s, even Honda did.

    The Domestics were not unaware. They declared by 1980 that they had learned their lesson, that quality was a lot more important, that they were fully equal to the imports…

    It was easy to declare. It was a lot easier to do. A lot of people got burnt for decades believing the declarations of the domestics.

    Now, maybe the domestics are equal to the imports. That equality and several tens of thousands of dollars in refunds for believing them before will make me consider them again.

  • avatar

    The Vega and the Pinto failed for three reasons – but not because GM and Ford set out to purposely make lousy small cars.

    One was the mindset with which Detroit viewed the small car market at the time.

    The second was the failure to understand just how the Japanese operated, and how it was different from the European and American approach.

    The final reason was unique to each company, as the Vega and Pinto were bad in different ways, and their faults reflected the corporate culture that brought them to the market.

    In the late 1960s, Detroit still viewed small cars as cheap cars. People bought them because they couldn’t afford to buy a “real” car – i.e., a Chevrolet Impala, Ford Galaxie, or the Holy Grail, a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Management didn’t understand that small cars could be attractive on their own terms, and that not everyone aspired to own a Fleetwood Brougham. This type of buyer wanted a small car that was pleasurable to drive in a different sort of way – not as a rolling isolation chamber, as most Detroit products were at that time, or as a straight-line dragster, as the muscle cars and ponycars had evolved by 1970.

    Small car buyers wanted a peppy, economical, good handling, well-finished and nicely equipped car. GM and Ford, however, still believed that small car buyers fell into two camps. The first camp would never consider a domestic offering because they liked the appeal of something different (call it the VW Beetle Syndrome). The second camp were descendants of Rambler American buyers, who just wanted small, economical and cheap – and not much else. If your bogey is a 1960s Rambler American with smaller size and better gas mileage, then you don’t have to offer much to the buyer in the way of driving enjoyment or attention to detail.

    Second, despite the rising sales of Datsun and Toyota in the late 1960s, Detroit dismissed the Japanese and focused on the European small car manufacturers at that time – VW, Renault, Austin and Fiat. They sold cars that had serious deficiencies, and the manufacturers didn’t change their vehicles very often. The idea of continuous improvement to address customer concerns was as foreign to most of the Europeans (except for VW, and it was so wedded to the Beetle that even continuous improvement couldn’t address the shortcomings inherent in the car’s layout and design) as it was to the Americans. Given that mindset, it’s no wonder that the Vega and Pinto were left unchanged for too many years, or that GM and Ford were too slow to address customer complaints.

    Finally, each car reflected its corporate culture.

    The Vega was the brainchild of GM President Ed Cole, and he had personally supervised the development of the car’s engine, which turned out to be its Achilles’ Heel. Others within the corporation knew that this engine wasn’t ready for primetime, but no one was powerful enough to challenge Ed Cole. The car’s awful workmanship was partially the result of GM’s terrible relationship with the UAW, which was, if anything, even worse that it is today. The Vega’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant became synonomous with industrial strife and resulting poor quality in the early 1970s. Ignoring the example provided by Toyota, both GM and the UAW primarily stood around pointing fingers at each other, while junk was pushed out the factory door.

    The Pinto was the result of Lee Iacocca’s determination to have the car on the market quickly, at a low price, and under a certain weight. He rushed the car through the development process, which meant that it was structurally flimsy, as Ford wasn’t too experienced in taking the weight out of car while maintaining structural integrity. That spelled disaster when the car was involved in anything beyond a low-speed rear-end collision. Iacocca at that time had a light regard for engineering, and he was reinforced by the bean-counter mentality that ruled Ford, which demanded that costs be kept as low as possible. The Pinto was much better trimmed than the Vega, and it also had much better workmanship (then, as now, Ford had a better relationship with the UAW than GM), but it’s “fun-to-drive” quotient wasn’t much better than that of a Maverick.

    The cars weren’t purposely designed to be crappy…but they were hindered by the corporate cultures that brought them forth, as well as the enveloping “Detroit” culture that had a skewed view as to why people bought small cars.

    Roger Smith tried to overcome this by forming Saturn. It was to be kept separate from GM as much as possible. For all his faults, he did realize that GM’s corporate culture was a big problem in meeting the import challenge. The all-new plant with a new groundbreaking UAW agreement was an attempt to overcome the toxic legacy of the labor strife at Lordstown. The plastic panels were an attempt to bring about new technology that people could really use (I, for one, would still like to see dent-resistance panels on vehicles that offer today’s level of panel fit and finish, as I hate door dings). The touchy-feely dealers and no-haggle prices were an honest attempt to overcome people’s hatred of the car-buying process (remember that Saturn was conceived and launched before the Internet became widespread and allowed everyone to check prices online).

    In short, it was a good idea.

    The problem was that by the late 1980s, GM couldn’t afford it. GM no longer ruled the market. Saturn stole money that other GM divisions needed for new models. Saturn had plenty of enemies within GM.

    When Roger Smith left, Saturn lost its main supporter. The corporation seemed almost embarrassed by Saturn’s initial success, and has spent the last 10 years dismantling it and bringing it back into the corporate fold. Which has destroyed its reason for existence.

    Now, in 2008, GM still doesn’t know what to do with Saturn. GM being GM, it still thinks it can make the Saturn brand stand for certain things because…it says so. Which is not the way it works in 2008.

    Personally, I look for Saturn to be gone within five years. The new models have failed to connect with buyers. People looking for expensive import-wannabees don’t go to the Saturn dealer, while long-time Saturn buyers aren’t willing to pay current asking prices for their next set of wheels. The quality has been mediocre at best, and the no-haggle pricing scheme has lost its allure in the age of the internet.

    But, even worse, the new cars are, in the grand scheme of things, merely…good. They aren’t that great, and certainly aren’t good enough to get people out of a Honda or Toyota.

    In other words, it’s Oldsmobile, part two.

    ronin: But when your Vega (or Cougar, or LTD, or…) rusted into oblivion in only two or three years when you lived through rustbelt winters, you began to look around.

    Yes, the Vega was garbage, but Detroit’s intermediates and full-size models were far more durable than the typical economy car in the early and mid-1970s, especially the Japanese ones. I had a 1977 Honda Civic, which I loved, but there was no way I would say that was as durable or rust resistant as my parents’ 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale.

    (Which is why the Japanese made their initial inroads in California, where rust is not as big a concern.)

    It was, however, much better than my parents’ 1973 AMC Gremlin. That is where the Japanese made their initial inroads. People bought a crappy Pinto, Vega or Gremlin and switched to the Japanese. Most people weren’t trading in Delta 88s or LTD Broughams on Corollas.

  • avatar

    I admire the effort to tilt at windmills, but the prospects for Saturn remain grim. The first Opel repurposing effort was the Saturn L series, which were basically Opel Vectras built in Deleware. It was such a disappointment that the last one rolled off the factory floor in late 2004 as 2005 model year vehicles after five years of low production levels. The car was so bad that Saturn did without a mid-size vehicle until the Auru was introduced as a 2007 replacement.

    Now we have the imported Opel Astra also not selling. In the latest Consumer Reports hatchback test Astra came in ninth place. People are not buying them. Then you have the problem of the American Peso not buying much in Belgium, home of the Saturn Astra.

    The current Aura is only slightly related to the Opel range, but the 2010 redesign is widely reported to be shared with the next Opel Vectra:

    If GM must keep Saturn they should at least do what they should have done a decade ago and merge Saab USA into it. Saab has one of the worst dealer networks in the country. But then again, Saab also has unappealing products built in high cost Europe.

    Hard to defend.

  • avatar

    Does anyone else question the merit of pursuing such a small market segment with Saturn?

    How many cars a year does VW average in NA? Couple hundred thousand?

    The problem with the NEW Saturn plan is that ‘success’ (meaning, stealing customers from VW), really is an economic ‘failure’ for GM.

    BPG, by comparison, can stumble, fumble, and mumble along and should sell several hundred thousand more vehicles a year than Saturn ever will.

    So…why bother with Saturn at all? Just take Opel and other non-NA brand vehicles and sprinkle them around the other divisions.

  • avatar

    I’m sure the ION, and L300 and Vue, etc. rebadges created customer frustration that even the best customer service can’t cure the fact that the cars were poorly built.

  • avatar

    The problem is that GM never had the resources to sustain the whole “A different kind of car company—a different kind of car” approach. So the S-series stagnated, and when they expanded the product line (and replaced the S-series), it was with rebadged Opels and other cars built with common GM platforms and drivetrains. In other words, they started undermining their fundamental reason for being in less than a decade.

    At the moment Saturn is on the fence. They don’t quite want to let go of their roots, but they obviously haven’t fully embraced the new Euro-Saturn idea. Hence the stupid “We’re American, but not TOO American” ad campaigns. The best things Saturn had going for it was customer loyalty and satisfaction and the fact that many of its customers were not regular GM customers.

    They can’t afford to throw that away, but it’s going to be difficult if not impossible for them to hang onto those attributes while throwing away everything else Saturn stood for. You can’t simply tell people, “Okay, forget that whole warm-n-fuzzy American-made econobox thing. Now we make upscale, fun-to-drive import fighters,” and expect people to nod their heads and accept this sudden change in direction.

    It’s hard to believe that GM’s ADHD is so bad that they could screw up a blank slate in just a decade or two, but that seems to be what’s happened. If they can pull off a reinvention of Saturn, I’ll applaud them, but I’m not exactly optimistic.

  • avatar

    geeber: The cars weren’t purposely designed to be crappy…but they were hindered by the corporate cultures that brought them forth, as well as the enveloping “Detroit” culture that had a skewed view as to why people bought small cars.

    I think Detroit STILL has a skewed opinion about who buys small cars. Apparently you’ve got to be a 20-something or economically challenged. A grown-up adult wouldn’t buy a small car would they? Or maybe an adult already knows to avoid the domestics and Detroit is relying on the ignorance of the youth to buy their small cars.

    I’ve long felt that the imports are ahead of the game b/c in other markets adults do buy small cars. Go to Europe and 40-somethings drive Golfs. In other parts of the world 40-somethings drive Civics. And Versas (Renaults). And so on.

    So everything goes well for a decade or so – Detroit building large vehicles and then suddenly gas jumps high and people downsize their rides and the best buys (quality, content, design) are the cars that are sold around the world to the adults.

    Detroit hasn’t really been paying attention to the small car market so it takes a while for them to change directions and start selling competitive small cars. Eventually our incomes catch up with gas prices and a certain portion of the population goes back to buying big vehicles – whatever Detroit makes and they forget their small cars in search of easy profits on large vehicles which are cheap to build like small cars but whose typical consumer imagines is worth more.

    If GM would take ALL of their consumers seriously and build products that people would want to own (read – nice to drive and LASTS) big and small then they wouldn’t fall off their horse everytime gas prices go up. They are forever catching up when prices climb and then when things settle down again then GM takes a decade off from thinking and they get behind again.

    Meanwhile Honda and Toyota (VW, Nissan, etc) keep selling big and small cars and making a profit on all of them.

    Maybe the climbing gas prices are temporary but will it take 5 years or 15 years for people to get content with gas prices again? Can GM/Ford/Chrysler make it through this or will they drown in debt?

    Whatever the case I think there are a good number of people who just don’t want to “hang out” with Detroit anymore and it will take friends and families with good things to say about their domestics to change the tide. I’ll consider domestics next time but only two of their vast catalog… Astra and Focus. I want another hatchback. Everything else I’d consider is an import.

    FWIW I have been driving small cars since 1991.

  • avatar

    Mr. Dederer

    Thank you for a thought provoking editorial. While I’ve long been in the “Kill Saturn” camp, and remain there for now, I have to admit you make a good argument for keeping it around.

    It is the number 4 division in sales, so if GM could figure out how to make a couple bucks on those sales, they’d have something very worthwhile.

    I don’t have an MBA, but I’m thinking making cars in the high wage EU and then selling them in the land of the declining dollar probably isn’t the way to make money. Duplicate the tooling, send it here, and we’ll make Opels w/o the exchange rate problems.

    I don’t think Saturn can be the econobox provider because the dealer network is too small. A lot of people who need a small economical car live far from a Saturn dealer.

  • avatar

    how many engineers get jobs at Magnavox within USA? How many Americans solder chips at RadioShack? Give me the proud surnames of American designers that work on General Electric TV sets? How many families will be grown up on this money? How many children sent to school? How many churches and libraries built?
    Exactly. This is where Saturn is heading . A generic memory of once promising brand. The less work of creation is involved, the less people get involved around it, and the less people get involved around it, the more dying middle class gets! You can slap your Saturn badges on whatever you want even on my house doors, it doesn`t add JOBS- neither janitors in factories, nor engineers at drawing board. CAn you imagine how many engineers in germany get jobs, just to manufacture and design a single new gearbox? And they don`t get paid 9bucks an hour, because that is not the salary of an engineer. Now, how many engineers do you need at Saturn? Right, not many. So the presumable people who could work on designing, let`s say Saturn Excelsior minivan, will have to find jobs somewhere else. Probably low paid jobs at KFC. YOu have to understand, by killing manufacturing, you are killing your clients. Does saturn have a single model that would not be designed and engineered either by german or korean hands? IS it cheaper to design in Korea? Well, turns out it is cheaper even in Germany! Then again, it is cheaper to design in USa, because that`s what Toyota and Honda and Hyundai is doing. Simple darwinism at work. No matter how you look at it, the story tells the reality of US engineering capacity.Sorry!

  • avatar

    geeber, the Camry is a hell of a lot different than the Explorer or Suburban.

  • avatar

    Ahhh the Opel Kadett or rather the GSi version. Fond memories there; flat in 5th. 242 kilometres an hour (according to the digital dash) If the GSi was the version Saturn had here I’d buy one.

  • avatar

    Saturn’s way of doing business was more about making the car buying experience a more positive one. Its the Lexus experience for the huddled masses. They took the haggling out of car prices, something that a lot of folks dreaded. Dealers had the freedom to use whatever it takes to make the customer experience as positive as possible. The product was different, with the plastic panels, the new design engines, the simplified option packages. It was an OK car, handled well, noisy engine etc, but the Saturn buying experience was the exact opposite of buying a Chevrolet (or for that matter, an import car – where demand=dealer gauging) and that was thier key to thier success. They had great marketing, with ‘real people’ advertising, Saturn BBQs at Spring Hill for Homecoming.

    They need to return to that. Make all those Opels in Springhill TN on a flexible line, keep quality at the forefront, and keep the retailer experience first rate. Keep them as separate from GM as possible and all will be good. There is a space for Saturn and a reason.

  • avatar

    Sorry for being off topic a bit, but here is a link to my car that i am tuning at the moment! Wait for your remarks!

  • avatar

    Busbodger :
    May 13th, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    I think Detroit STILL has a skewed opinion about who buys small cars. Apparently you’ve got to be a 20-something or economically challenged. A grown-up adult wouldn’t buy a small car would they? Or maybe an adult already knows to avoid the domestics and Detroit is relying on the ignorance of the youth to buy their small cars.

    Agree! I’m looking to buy a better then average MPG vehicle as an extra to my current below average MPG vehicles. I even have a Big 2.7 dealer near my house that has been giving me great service. I would like to buy another vehicle from them, but their small cars look like you have to be young and dumb to buy them.

    Why can’t the Big 2.7 make a small car as well built and with great resale and MPG like a Civic? Has GM, Ford and Chrysler not noticed the Civic yet? No, their too busy marketing cars with chill zones and syncing MP3 players. LOL

  • avatar

    Busbodger: So everything goes well for a decade or so – Detroit building large vehicles and then suddenly gas jumps high and people downsize their rides and the best buys (quality, content, design) are the cars that are sold around the world to the adults.

    In all fairness, it’s not only Detroit that does this.

    Toyota’s best seller is the Camry, not the Corolla or the Yaris. Same for Honda – the Accord is the company’s bread-and-butter, not the Civic or the Fit. By European and Japanese standards, the American Accord and Camry are big cars.

    And both Toyota and Nissan have been aggressively pursuing the light-truck market with a full array of SUVs, crossovers and pickups.

    Busbodger: Meanwhile Honda and Toyota (VW, Nissan, etc) keep selling big and small cars and making a profit on all of them.

    VW does not make a profit in the U.S.

  • avatar

    “…it costs GM nothing to slap a Saturn badge in place of the Opel badge.”

    According to Lutz it was around $100 million to federalize the Astra.

    It takes a lot of volume to recover that investment when each unit is sold at a loss.(natch)

  • avatar

    Yesterday, I was at the local Saturn-Saab dealer in my area (they are twinned Saturn-Saab in Canada)getting my vehicle serviced and I couldn’t believe how busy they where. Normally there are people browsing, geting brochures, etc, but yesterday there was literally a lineup to get a test drive either an Astra or a base or hybrid Aura. I guess that proves if you have a desirable product people will come and check it out. Interestingly, there where a lot of urban hipsters, the type you would see normally driving a VW or Mazda as perspective Saturn buyers. On a non Saturn note, there where a lot of people coming into check out the new Saab 9-3 xwd.

  • avatar

    Saturn was a dumb idea from the very start. It doesn’t make fiscal sense to start a whole seperate dealer network to just sell low-end, plastic-sided, Corolla-clones. That would be like if Toyota made Scion a completely stand-alone dealer network, totally seperate from Toyota dealers.

    And, once you’ve convinced the world that “Saturn” means “low-end, plastic-sided, Corolla-clone”, you can’t turn around and try to move it upscale. The no-haggle bit works against Saturn here as well-no-haggle works when you are spending 15k, but not 35k, especially if you can buy the same stuff at other GM dealers that do haggle.

    Let’s compare the sales of the products that are sold at both Saturn dealers and other GM dealers:

    Jan-April 2008 sales:

    Saturn Sky: 2,983
    Pontiac Solstice: 3,944

    Saturn Aura: 21,961
    Chevy Malibu: 59,133
    Pontiac G6: 57,143
    Saab 9-3: 5,469

    Saturn Outlook: 8,929
    GMC Acadia: 27,506
    Buick Enclave: 15,832

    …and the only two non-clones…

    Saturn Astra: 2,386
    Saturn VUE: 28,554

    Also keep in mind that in most/all of these cases, the Saturn product has the lowest base sticker price (meaning it should sell more, not less than the other brands). This is most blatant in the Outlook/Acadia/Enclave triplets (the other two models are also sold at the exact same PBG dealers in most cases as well).

    Now, some people will complain that Saturn has fewer dealers, so of course it has fewer sales. Well, if the dealerships were profitable, they would have more, wouldn’t they? Heck, it’s sales are worse than back when they sold one model (the plastic-sided Corolla-clone), as opposed to five. This also means that it’s easier to kill than, say, PBG. Shutdown costs would be much less than Oldsmobile.

    Since all of Saturn’s product is new (and all of it has bombed, with the possible exception of the redesigned VUE), it’s also easy to kill, timing-wise-just kill it in three or four years when this batch of product is due to be redesigned.

    Now, I would also kill Saab (at least domestically) and Hummer. Not coincidentially, those two brands, plus Saturn, have the highest drops in sales this year of all the GM brands. Cadillac has the lowest overall drop in sales, then followed by the three PBG brands (so much for killing them), then Chevy.

  • avatar

    Why doesn’t GM just _sell_ Saturn?

    Saturn hasn’t been useful in years and they don’t have a clue what to do with it. Surely if they bundled in Spring Hill and the plans for the original S-series cars, someone would bite. Besides, they’ve sold off more useful GM subsidiaries recently, they may as well get out from under some of the dealer/production issues.

    For what it’s worth I love my 2001 SC1 and intend to drive it into the ground. My wife _did_, with her SL2. I liked the S cars and until something similar shows up in an American showroom I’m not interested.

  • avatar

    nullset: If you love your Saturn, then it seems to me that Saturn is useful. The next question is how useful.

  • avatar

    KatiePuckrik: I disagree. Saturn was a stupid idea from day one. It’s mission statement was (paraphrasing) “fight Euro and Japanese cars”. Why couldn’t Chevrolet do this?

    I personally, believe that Saturn was borne out of frustration. People were leaving GM to Euro and Japanese marques and Roger Smith thought that “if we create a new brand, it’ll sustain their interests long enough to stay at GM”.

    As a buyer of a first gen saturn (’93 SL2 5speed) I can tell you that I never would have bought a Chevrolet. Saturn was different because it was started as a separate company owned by GM, but outside of GM. They at least were supposed to be using Japanese-style employee empowerment to help improve quality. They were inexpensive (insurance was quite low relative to other cars at least partly because the plastic panels were so easy to replace). And more than just a simple Japan fighter, first gen saturns were billed as the practical person’s sporty car. The handling was impressive. I shopped it against an integra.

    The stupid things GM did were to pull Saturn back into the mother company, to dumb everything down (dull styling, bad handling etc), and to try to be everything to everyone instead of maintaining the original niche.

  • avatar

    If they kept Saturns refreshed and competitive, GM probably would have truly had a brand that could have been competitive against Japanese brands. But like usual, they let the designs age and they didn’t get the needed updates.

    Wrong. The problem was they abandoned the original formula of the practical person’s sporty car. The gen 1’s are still fun (I had one for 11 yrs). I have a friend who just bought one, and although it is a 13 year old car, I still enjoy the lightness (2450 lbs) and the good handling.

    Had Saturn kept the cool styling of the originals, instead of letting it go generic in ’96, and had they concentrated on improving quality (the original twin camshaft engines were junk), they would have kept buyers like me. Basically, originally they had a car that could compete with an Integra, and in ’96 they turned it into a car that could cmpete with a… Chevrolet.

  • avatar

    No matter where we steer our comments to they always end up in the thesis of the whole Saturn paper. Even if you presume that Saturn fails because of the lack of original idea of plastic panels, lightweightedness, affordability, dealers independence, whatever. In the end all roads lead to Rome, meaning to the failing empire. And Saturn fails exactly for the same reasons the other American car brands fail. 3 basic blunders over and over again- Faking of being domestic and using foreign engineering, Poor diversity, poor quality and fit and finish. And reliability. And you know what, even if you fail just at 1 of these points, you fail in sales. Always.

  • avatar

    It has been said many times before, “if you aint gonna buy one GM brand you aint gonna buy any of the others”. That is true for myself and the majority of folks I know that are NOT interested in “traditional” domestic brands of cars. At the end of the day a Saturn is still a GM car, subject to all of the other BS that goes alone with purchasing any GM product. If GM is known for not honoring Warranties on Chevys or Pontiacs why on earth would I now trust another GM product because GM claims it is somehow different than the rest? KMA!

    In the end Saturn will be seen as nothing more than a misguided attempt of GM trying to runaway from its ownself. By creating Saturn in the mid 80s GM clearly was telling the world that its business model was broken beyond repair and they KNEW IT 20 years ago.

    Today the thought of a successful Saturn brand must scare the Suger Honey Ice Tea out of the struggling Chevy dealers. Its like GM has adopted a another child that can only steal the thunder from the real first born. Chevy and Saturn have the EXACT same mission with product line that a parallel to each other outside of the Vette and full sized trucks. BUT, needless to say IF Saturn was to become successful GM would create a full-sized Saturn SUV and PU to take advantages of that avenue of sales.

  • avatar

    Saturn wanted to be the Macintosh. And for a while it was.

    It was a car company for folks who didn’t want to be car people. They didn’t want to sit around and talk about their hemi’s or their 0-60 or their cams. They didn’t want to be treated as idiots in the dealership for not knowing where their secondary air pump was. They didn’t want to haggle on the price. People are willing to pay a premium to not deal with a-holes.

    It’s not surprising to hear that GM killed that golden goose.

  • avatar

    I disagree with the notion that it was for people who didn’t want to be car people. I loved mine first and foremost because it was fun to drive. And it looked cool. There was a time when a person could brag about having a Saturn.

    But after the ’96’s came out, it became embarrassing.

  • avatar

    I disagree with the theory that Saturn brought in Honda and Toyota buyers. Every person I know who owns or previously owned a Saturn owned a domestic automobile before they bought their Saturn. Now, it may have slowed the bleeding somewhat, in that it may have prevented defections from the domestics to the Japanese, at least for a while. But almost nobody traded in a Honda or Toyota on Saturn back in the day, and they certainly don’t do so now.

    The things that made Saturn special in the beginning (the fact that it wasn’t merely another GM brand, but was almost completely seperate from the corporate parent) are the same exact things that caused it to lose so much money, since GM had to reinvent the wheel for every damned thing. When GM started to stumble, they had to retreat on those policies, for obvious fiscal reasons.

  • avatar

    How did the ION become a rebadge? Rebadge of what?
    Nonce has the Saturn idea correct.

  • avatar

    Saturn had a chance when it embraced a culture that stood apart from the norm. When they (GM) allowed that culture to whither on the vine, Saturn just became another GM brand, and suffers the same slow demise.

  • avatar

    The Ion is simply a Chevrolet Cobalt with different skin. Technically, the Chevrolet Cobalt is a reskinned Ion, since Ion came out first. But they were engineered concurrently.

    Interestingly enough, the local Saturn dealer has 143 cars – sitting there. Some date back to 2005. NOS (new old stock). Some 2006’s and some 2007’s as well.

    I “could” get a 2007 Saturn Ion for $11,990 or I “could” get a four cylinder 2007 Saturn Vue (FWD) for $13,990. If I wanted.

    I don’t want.

    Squeek squeek rattle. (GM’s new name with me; Ford = DORF and Chrysler’s, I can’t print where children might see it).

  • avatar

    One of the supreme ironies of the Saturn project is how after Roger Smith was gone and Saturn was left to flounder, Spring Hill was very slow to pick up on any current market trends.

    I’m speaking, of course, how long it took Saturn to get into producing profitable SUVs in addition to small cars. Then, when GM finally gets around to addressing the situation and Saturn gets their own versions of GM corporate SUVs (beginning with the 2002 Chevrolet Equinox-based Vue), the bottom quickly drops out of the SUV market.

  • avatar

    While I do agree with some of what Geotpf had to say< it is easy to outsell Saturns with the other Gm lines when there are over 6,000 more of these dealers combined out in the US, The Saturns are selling well for having only approx 400 dealers nationwide.
    The other thing that I love is that The Aura is unveiled in late ’06 and wins the North American Car of the Year. Malibu is quickly redesigned for ’08. Also, Outlook unveiled in late ’06 and the same basic car is moved into Buick and GMC showrooms a year later.
    If Saturn is going to succeed, it needs to have its own identity. Not be GM’s R&D franchise. Saturn has shown there is a place for it in the marketplace. Customers like the way the Saturn dealers are doing business. Many Saturn owners I have spoken to seem to love the way they are on a first name basis with many dealer employees even though they only go in for routine maintanence. Something they don’t get from other brand dealerships.

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