Saturn Celebrates Its Lack of Uniqueness

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
saturn celebrates its lack of uniqueness

Manufacturers' blogs are a terrific development. Not because anyone other than OCD automotive journalists, company flacks and devoted fanboys actually read them (check out the number of comments on GMNext or the quality of the [pre-screened] criticism on Bob Lutz' GM Fastlane). No, the cod web 2.0 carmakers' sites are valuable because they reveal their originators' view of themselves. So when I encountered a video blog entry on GMNext titled " That's a Saturn!", I clocked the spear (a.k.a. exclamation mark) and reckoned it was boilerplate PR. Pressing play revealed Saturn's brand managers had aimed a camera-shaped nine mil at their feet. The company debadged a Saturn Astra, parked it in the locus of American car culture (the California coast line), and asked a carefully edited selection of passers-by to identify the brand. Guess what happens GMNext? "The interior looks like some of the newer Toyotas." "I feel like it's a Toyota." "Looks like a Mazda." "Either a Honda or a Toyota." "I'd go with Honda." "Honda." "Actually I changed my mind. It's a Dodge." When the actual brand is revealed, the interviewer asks "Does it look like your run-of-the-mill Saturn?" Ouch. Meanwhile, one wonders what comments got left on the cutting room floor (It's an Opel Astra) and why in the world anyone would ever want their product mistaken for a Dodge. [NB: We're going to add a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot award to The Bob Lutz Award TTACNext time out.]

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4 of 23 comments
  • Jonathon Jonathon on May 06, 2008

    Geotpf: I'm not sure that Saturn as a subbrand of Oldsmobile would've made much sense. Sure, the styling in later years looked pretty similar, but the S-series doesn't seem to fit with the more upscale Olds lineup. Maybe they could've made some substantial changes and slotted it as an entry-level Olds below the Alero. Of course, the problem is that Saturn was a bad idea to begin with. It shows how desperate GM was to have some presence in the compact segment that they were trying such a kitchen sink approach with the J-body cars for every marque, rebadged Japanese cars at a new subbrand of Chevy, and a whole new division just for compacts.

  • Steven Lang Steven Lang on May 06, 2008

    I don't think the Saturn brand is a damaged one. If you lined it up with the rest of the GM brands, it would certainly come in ahead of Hummer, Buick, Pontiac and Saab. I can also tell you that a lot of women have a very positive attitude towards the Saturn brand. Their vehicles are definitely not for the testosterone ridden, but the ease of operation and frugal gas consumption do put it on the radar for a lot of buyers. What Saturn has really lacked (for over a decade now) is a breakthrough product. That's a hard thing to do when the mothership is busy stepping all over itself trying to release three to five different versions of the same type of vehicle. Vue, Outlook, Sky, are all just homologations of what GM already offers through B-P-G and Chevy divisions. That's just not a winnable formula when your competition has more money and more resources to invest in a unique product. As for the Astra, if the Euro was at an exchange closer to 2001 - 2003 levels, the Astra would be a great consideration. It is a unique offering that offers probably the most Euro influenced vehicle in GM's line-up except for the higher priced Saab. I suspect we would have also probably been given a nicer interior and perhaps even a turbo. With the Euro at $1.60 right now, GM can not make any money with this model and do those things. However I do think GM should be complemented for having the wherewithal to recognize Saturn's current situation and do something about it. Now if only they would sell it to some entity that would be willing to offer a unique and competitive product, now that would be an achievement.

  • Theodore Theodore on May 07, 2008

    The Astra is the only car that's ever gotten me into a Saturn dealership. If it draws people who wouldn't otherwise consider a Saturn, that's a good thing for GM. Doesn't seem like it is, though. I wonder if it's the fact that it's a hatchback. Hatches certainly have their partisans, but it's long been said that hatches don't sell that well here. I'd be interested in sales figures for current and recently-discontinued hatchback models (ie, Focus.)

  • HEATHROI HEATHROI on May 07, 2008
    Maybe they could’ve made some substantial changes and slotted it as an entry-level Olds below the Alero. from the roadtrip I had in an alero, I thought it was the (very) entry level vehicle.