Ask the Best and Brightest: Who Will Walk Away With Saturn, Saab, Pontiac, Hummer?

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
ask the best and brightest who will walk away with saturn saab pontiac hummer

According to Bloomberg, who has it from people supposedly familiar with the matter, GM “is studying whether to shed its Saturn, Saab and Pontiac brands in addition to Hummer.”

So assuming that they do: Will they just dump the brands? As in throw them away? Or will they sell them? If the latter, who do you think will be the successful bidder?

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  • Stevelovescars Stevelovescars on Nov 29, 2008

    I would have to guess that Pontiac is most likely to get the axe first for the same reasons Oldsmobile got chopped. At the time, one could actually argue that Olds had some of the best products in GM's portfolio (ok, not saying much, but the cars looked nicer and drove better than anything else they had on the Avis lot at the time). However, Oldsmobile had a huge percentage of their sales going to fleets (>50% if I remember correctly) and they had the fewest stand-alone dealers, so while it was still expensive to terminate franchise agreements it was cheaper than it would have been with other divisions. Similarly, Pontiac seems to be lost with consumers. What does it stand for? They have many of the exact same products as Chevy (Cobalt/G3, Torrent/whatever Chevy calls their small SUV). They do have the G8 but it's a lone wolf in that lineup of badge-engineered mediocrity. And, more importantly, thanks to GM's dealer reorganization, has very few stand-alone dealers to pay off. There should be a library of books written about how GM screwed up on Saturn but their dealer network is still a model for how to establish a distribution network (if you must use franchisees). I'm still not sure if this is a reason to keep them when GM simply can't afford to design and market so many overlapping products, but at least it's something. I like Saabs and am embarrassed to admit that I've actually owned a couple over the years (and lost a fortune on both of them, by the way). They make interesting cars for masochistic gearheads but have never sold in volume, have horrendous resale value, and have almost zero brand presence in the U.S. Oh, and they tend to sell or lease at tremendous discounts because Saab leaders in the U.S. still harbor the fantasy that they can charge as much as BMW on their stickers. Saab probably could have had a future as a niche player with fuel-efficient luxury cars but they haven't even had that to brag about in years. Their small turbocharged engines have promised the power of a 6 with the fuel efficiency of a 4 but never really delivered either. They could have been an ideal candidate to try out hybrid-electric technology for GM but Smith/Wagoner and the rest of them decided to buy Hummer instead of continuing the development started by the EV1 program (yes, there were hybrid prototypes in the works even back then). Sadly, I just can't see the value of Saab to any potential buyer. As lost as Jaguar may have been over the years, they can at least point to their heritage with racing, the E-types, XKs, and other iconic cars as the basis for a prestige brand. How many contemporary car buyers even know what a 99 or Sonett are? And, even if they did, would these be the basis for a luxury brand? GM has never made money on Saab and I don't think anyone ever will. And I'm a fan. Hummer should be an expensive write-off and a future Harvard Business School case study, but other than that, it should be shut down and forgotten. Maybe my perspective is screwed-up by living in California as long as I have, but I think the market for overweight and overly conspicuous SUVs is dead even with gas prices back down as they are today. That trend was fueled by poorly written CAFE standards, expired tax loopholes, MTV and SEMA. Kids interested in pimping their rides are now focused on Hybrids and veggie oil and SEMA jumped the shark when their show started focusing on 24" wheels with real $100 bills glued on under the clearcoat (I kid you now, they had them there a couple of years ago).

  • Ryan Ryan on Nov 29, 2008

    Bertel Schmitt, I think "Who Will Walk Away With Saturn, Saab, Pontiac, Hummer?" should be replaced with: WHY WOULD ANYONE Walk Away With Saturn, Saab, Pontiac, Hummer?

  • Thinx Thinx on Nov 29, 2008

    Hummer - Mahindra buys the name. Continues H2 on life-support for now (via AMGeneral). Continues H3 on life-support via GM. Develops a new H3 based on a Mahindra platform to be built in India. Kills H2, brings back H1 as a halo vehicle in very small numbers. Licenses Hummer name to women's accessories - maybe Frederick's :-) - since it is a chick car anyway. Pontiac and others - Get GM into Ch.11 and kill Pontiac as a division. Chevy - turn into a bargain basement "new Chevy" brand - trendy sub-20K XB type cars. Pontiac maybe comes back as a tuner-badge for Chevy. Buick - takes on the conservative middle-range - 18K-40K. Cadillac - gets the top-end - 35K and above - only sedans, rebuild the image without the hideous Escalade. Offer superior quality, technology and luxury at value pricing - prepare to rebuild reputation over a decade. It is a par-five hole, needs dedication and focus - a hole-in-one strategy won't work. Corvette - becomes its own brand, with a two or three car range - imported Opel Speedster, a Camaro and a super-Corvette. GMC - becomes the truck brand, producing badge engineered SUV versions for Chevy and Buick. Saab - Sell. Saturn - hybrid and electric versions of select "new Chevy" models. The brand had a reputation for bold-ish innovative thinking - try to revive and nurture it. Alternatively, offer Saturn and its dealer network as a sweetener to whoever buys Saab.

  • George B George B on Nov 29, 2008

    Keep Chevrolet and Cadillac If GM sells Opel, include Saturn and Saab in the deal. Sell Hummer brand minus actual Hummers. Worth more that way. Sell Buick brand to the Chinese. Euthanize Pontiac and GMC. Thinx and others, most customers won't pay more for a Chevrolet if you call it a Pontiac, Buick, or GMC. They're just Chevys with a different set of dealers. The honest thing would be to pull the plug on Pontiac/Buick/GMC if dealer lawsuit costs were not a problem. Cadillac is a real not just a Chevy brand in GM. I like the idea of moving the Corvette to Cadillac dealers, but there are more important issues to worry about right now. Saab and Saturn are effectively part of Opel. If GM sells Opel, maybe they can throw in Saab and Saturn brands with the deal like free floor mats with a new car purchase.

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