By on December 8, 2008

It’s should be fairly obvious by now that Saturn is a dead brand walking. Little remains of Roger Smith’s import-fighting concept anyway, as the “different kind of car company” now consists solely of rebadged and Americanized Opels, fine young CUV-annibals, and the Sky. None of which sell very well. So, dead by Thursday, and that’s all she wrote? Not according to those crazy, mixed-up kids at Automotive News [AN, sub]. “Saturn has a product program, both current and future, that is currently in our plans,” GM Marketing Honcho Mark LaNeve tells AN. “But a lot of what is in our plans is in a state of flux right now given the state of the economy and everything.” Understatement of the week day hour? GM hopes to conceive a new business model to make the brand profitable, according to LaNeve, because a sale won’t happen. Hello, China? Then again…

Saturn has no dedicated manufacturing or engineering facilities, let alone a brand with any remaining cachet. In fact, at this point Saturn is pretty much just a bunch of low-traffic dealerships and a few guys bolting badges onto Opels. If a sale won’t happen, then the only “alternatives” left for GM are to starve Saturn into a niche brand (a la Pontiac) or kill it completely.

The latter option means up to $1b worth of Olds-style dealer buyouts, since (all together now) bankruptcy is not an option. And that’s not counting all the potential lawsuits.

If GM can’t man-up enough to cut Saturn the easy way (in Chapter 11), why would anyone think they’d do it the hard way now? The only question left: how much more niche (175,434 year-to-date) can Saturn’s sales get?

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29 Comments on “Saturn: Lost In Space...”


  • avatar
    truthbetold37

    Whining “Oh the pain! The pain of it all!”

    – Dr. Smith

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    So Saturn has sold only 8,000 cars in 11 months? How is that possible?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The only question left is how much more niche (8,130 year-to-date) can Saturn’s sales get?

    Well, if Saab is any example…

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Chrysler Aerospace worked on the Saturn 1B in the early 1960’s. They didn’t sell very many of those either, but they were very impressive.

  • avatar
    hunmik

    “8,130 year-to-date”

    If that number is real then… just… simply… wow!

    There is a place in town (Eau Claire, WI) that used to be a Hummer/Saturn dealership. The Hummer side of the brand new building was recently converted into a “Certified Used GM” showroom. I suspect the other side is not far behind.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    Saturn the brand has to go, but GM should take page from Ford and at least keep the good products – the Aura and Astra.
    A big part of the Big 3’s problem has always been the cost and confusion of selling the same car under different brands in the same market. If the Chevy brand is good enough for the ‘Vette, why is it so inconceivable to sell the Solstice/Sky as a Chevy? The Aura should be the up-market Malibu, and the Astra should replace everything else with a bowtie and a hatch….

  • avatar

    So which cars out of the lineup that “consists solely of rebadged imports (oh yeah, and the Sky)” is a rebadged import other than the Astra?

    Outlook? Nope
    Aura? Nope
    Vue? Import from Mexico, but still built in a NAFTA country
    Sky? Nope, but you acknowledged that

    Also, the November sales were 8,130 – not the YTD sales. The YTD number is 175,434.

    And finally, the linked article says that the cost of buying out the Saturn dealers could be “upward of $1 billion.” I don’t see the $5 billion number anywhere in the article.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    How much would it cost to rebrand the entire 411 day supply of Astras as Chevrolets ?

    11,000 might be sold for the year, compared to the 100,000 or so of the much maligned ION. Not so much benefit to GM to keep on with the Astra either. Every one of them imported at a loss can’t be good no matter what the badge it wears.

    Gotta love that new Saturn “portfolio”. Rethink: what wazzat again?

  • avatar
    EEGeek

    Yeah, the 8130 YTD number is bogus. Even Saab has delivered 20K+ YTD. Real numbers are at http://media.corporate-ir.net/media_files/irol/84/84530/sales_production/Deliveries%20November%202008.pdf

    Why would Saturn not be an attraction for a Chinese manufacturer looking for a brand and sales channel, if the price was right? Or is it the TTAC collective wisdom that the Chinese also want engineering talent to help them come up to US/Japan/Europe standards?

  • avatar
    vvk

    New Astras are advertised as “used” for $14k locally.

    How much are equivalent-spec Astras going for in Germany, pre-VAT? Anyone know?

  • avatar

    What ever happened to Spring Hill, TN? What is being made there now that Saturn has sold out to the latest badge donor?

  • avatar

    Spring Hill has an engine plant that builds Ecotec four cylinders and the assembly plant was retooled to build the Chevy Traverse crossover.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    Once the Z-body was retired without replacement and the POS J-body Ion replaced it Saturn lost its raison d’être.

    It was all downhill from there.

    Had they created a decent Z-Body replacement for Spring Hill with a CUV variant they would actually be able spin off Saturn as a separate stand alone organization.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Holy Monday mind-melt, Batman. Text done been amended and coffee is being poured into the blogger’s ear. Apologies all round.

  • avatar
    radimus

    I wonder if it would be easier for GM to make brands go away if they turned them all into wholly or partially owned subsidiaries. They could set up some kind of chargeback system to cover R&D and manufacturing and maybe let each brand trully live, die, or file for C11 on its own merits.

    Maybe others with more business smarts than me can comment on this.

  • avatar
    CSJohnston

    Saturn and/or Pontiac has to go.

    If GM is thinking, these two brands are essentially trying to do the same thing: provide, interesting, compelling (maybe) product to the US markets that are not Chevrolets.

    If Pontiac is supposed to be a supporting brand for Buick then give it 75% of Saturn’s brand portfolio (Astra, Aura, Vue) and blend it with the three products unique in the Pontiac portfolio (G8, Vibe, Solstice).

    Then you have a lineup that is distinct from Chevy, compliments an upscale Buick lineup and could be marketed against competitors like: VW, Mazda and even Honda to a point. It will be a niche player but combined with Buick might form into a nice secondary sales group.

    Who knows, it might even make money if done right.

    Let Chevy compete with Ford and Toyota for the lion’s share of the mass market.

    Let Saturn and Pontiac die and re-emerge as something better together.

    Oh yeah, and kill GMC.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    The creation of Saturn was GM’s Rubicon moment.
    By then, the “secret” of Japanese know-how was already available within GM: Nummi.
    That was GM’s joint venture with Toyota at the shuttered Fremont CA assembly plant. It’s a fascinating story. Fremont had been making various A-body cars (Malibu, LeMans, Cutlass) and was closed in 1978 in part because the cars produced there had the most defects of any GM plant via their own internal quality audits. The JV with Toyota was created to build Toyota pickups, Corollas and clone Chevy Novas (later renamed Geo Prizms). (Remember Geo? More cutting-edge marketing from the General.) They rehired many of the furloughed GM workers. Hardly any new machinery was installed. Just “The Toyota Production System.” In a nutshell, TPS means kan-ban (just-in-time delivery), continuous improvement and recognition of the line workers’ role as quality monitors. Within 2 years the Nummi cars had GM’s highest internal quality numbers. Same plant, same equipment, same workers. That should have said all that was needed to be said. But no one back at corporate HQ was able to read the (green) tea leaves.
    It goes back to the notorious Grosse Pointe Myopia. Think of all of GM’s other missed opportunities. The under-utilized engineering talent from Lotus. The info-tech talent at Ross Perot’s EDS. The Defense business possibilities from Hughes Aerospace. The billions wasted on Saturn (never recouped.) All because GM corporate was still following the model laid down by Alfred Sloane back in 1927. There is nothing sadder than when an organization is in trouble and the solutions are known, and in plain view. And ignored.
    Robert (and TTAC) have been doing GM a great service with the Death Watch series for some years now. Care to imagine how many millions GM spent on outside consultants during that same time? Consultants who in all probability were ignored?
    GM, as it currently stands, does not deserve to survive.
    I hope Congress is successful in requiring the ousting of current management (and Board!) as preconditions to any government assistance.

  • avatar
    Gary Numan

    Now Remember, Saturn was created and launched as a new brand to fight and destroy the Asian imports. I’m sure most of us can remember when it was launched and what was said in all the P.R. at that time. Funny how nearly a decade later Saturn had Honda V6 engines in their SUV and now closing on nearly 2 decades of existence, it’s about to fold up.

    Clearly, another GM example of lotsa talk, promises and no results.

    So why should anything be believed during this bailout debacle. Unfortunately, odds are quite high that history will repeat and our tax dollars will simply be vaporized if given to Generous Motors.

  • avatar
    akear

    Maybe former Saturn owners simply do not want rebadged Opels. Ever since Saturn started importing Opels their sales declined rapidly.

    It will be the Astra that will be remembered as the car that eventually ruined Saturn. The lowly ION will get off the hook. Heck, at least they sold 100,000 IONs annually. They can’t even move 15,000 Astras this year!

    Judging purely by sales the Astra is a bigger bomb than the Vega ever was.

    Wagoner and Lutz have destroyed Saturn.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    2 points. The Saturn saga is proof of GM corporate braindeadedness. GM wanted to shutter a brand. Could have closed saturn (fewer dealers and fewer models) But no. So they closed Oldsmobile. Cost a $billion. Then what do they do? They start packing Saturn full of the same badge engineered cars, minivans and suvs that would have been Oldsmobiles. So now, they have another Oldsmobile they need to close. Brilliant.

    Second, I must disagree with willbodine on one point (though I agree completely with everything else in his comment). IMHO, GM’s problems come from NOT following Alfred Sloan’s vision. Sloan’s system, which built GM into the powerhouse it became, was Centralized administration and decentralized operations. GM central did the accounting, the purchasing, and kept each of the car divisions off of each other’s turf. The divisions were then free to engineer, style and build cars, constrained only by the dimensions of the shared platforms. This included unique proprietary engines and even transmissions (think PowerGlide, HydraMatic and Dynaflow from the 40s and 50s).

    But by the mid 60s, GM started centralizing the operations until there was nothing left of the divisions but a trademark. The badge-engineered cars of the 70s and beyond were made by an organization that was the antithesis of the Alfred Sloan system. Actually, the early Saturn was the one place in the whole of GM that actually operated like the GM divisions of old. Then that one went away too.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Saturn would seem to be a better buy than pontiac or buick for another maker.

  • avatar
    Chris Inns

    Saturn seems likes Cargo Cult thinking to me – build a new car plant! make it look like a Japanese plant (or at least how GM executives imagined a Japanese plant looked like)! and then the customers, they will come.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Saturn was always a dumb idea. It’s a big hole in which GM throws money into. Granted, GM is better at building holes-where-you-throw-money-into than cars, as they have plenty to choose from, but Saturn is one of the biggest. Saturn should have been to Oldsmobile as Scion now is to Toyota; a sub-brand with no stand alone dealers. It didn’t make sense to create a seperate dealership network just to sell plastic-sided Corolla-clones. It also didn’t make sense to take the brand you had spent a decade and a half convincing the world means “plastic-sided Corolla-clone” starts selling thrity five thousand dollar SUVs-and stops selling Corolla-clones! (The Astra gets relatively poor fuel economy, is rather expensive, and is only available in a hatchback-it’s not a Corolla-clone.)

    Saturn is the biggest of the three brands GM should close or sell (the other two are Saab and Hummer). GM should keep Chevy, Caddy, and Pontiac-Buick-GMC. Two stand alones and one three-for-one is as close as Toyota’s one stand alone and one two-for-one as GM can realistically get and not go out of business completely (well, they might anyways, but cutting further would guarantee it).

    The specific timing for Saturn’s closure should be in two or three years, when all of their product is due to be redone. Saab and Hummer can be killed or sold immediately.

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    ChrisHaak:

    The Saturn Aura, while being built in the US, is essentially an Opel Vectra.

    Vectra
    Aura

    Look familiar?

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Red Stapler: The ION was not a J Body but the 1st of the Deltas, the basis for the Cobalt & G5 and a relative of the Astra. Nothing to do with the J Body.

    And even it was better than the crude primitive, oil sucking, transmission blowing S Series. There was never a road smooth enough to steady the ride of that thing, nor enough tinkering to be done with that agricultural Saturn grown 1.9 to make it quiet. The bar was so low that was easy. It never got close to the Corolla or Civic as another of the B&B pointed out, and that was it’s greatest failure. Still good for 100,000 units a year and only 20% or so of those went to the rental fleets. How many others of GM’s models could say the same?

    The ION wasn’t better by much, but it rode better was quieter, had a larger trunk, a better engine, better entry and exit, more comfortable seating, a smaller turning radius, more reliable transmissions when replaced by the GM Hydramatic and Getrag manual. I have both [95 SL1 and 05 ION] so I have been able to make the comparisons on a weekly basis.

    The ION had it’s own set of compromises but the S Series did NOT reinvent the automobile. That’s a lot of hype, urban legend and Kool Aid drinking. It was barely competitive on introduction and got further and further behind over the years. It was the 2000 model year before they did anything about the oil sucking problem. Smooth move.

    If that was the best GM could do with a blank sheet of paper….. it’s no wonder they’re in trouble.

    Car & Driver: “Better than what it replaced”

    Consumer Guide : “Saturn’s replacement for the sub par S Series”.

    MSN,Edmund’s, AOL Auto, etc. ratings: the “pros” rate the ION better [again not by much] as do the owners in their own reports.

    GM sold a lot of medicocre cars as their “best effort” using an award winning ad campaign to help create what became a almost a “cult” for the car. That was it’s stroke of genius. The cars weren’t that great. Simple to repair, fun to drive, keep oil in them they’ll run for a long time, but teach GM how to build good cars?

    Anything GM learned from the Saturn experiment could have been learned from Nummi, GEO or Opel and for a lot less money.

    BTW: There is nothing of Saturn to sell as I heard reported from some ham bone on CNBC this afternoon re: the bail out “plan” from GM. “They plan to sell Saab and Saturn”. Saab maybe. Saturn, perhaps in 1995 when it actually was a subsidiary of General Motors and actually had tangible assets to sell.

    Now, unlike the MG/Rover collapse, there are no Saturn tools,dies, assembly lines, factories,engineering depts, engines,transmissions, designs or anything else to sell to the Chinese. Unless all the S series blueprints & designs & patents are a salable asset. There is nothing to lift & shift to China as Nanjing did with Rover. There is no “there”, there @ Saturn any longer. It is [and always has been] all GM all the time.

    Commander Fish:The Aura shares 60% of it’s entire design and platform with the Pontiac G6. It just looks like the Vectra. It is essentially a Pontiac G6.

    Akear: the Vega sold better than Saturn ever did in it’s best year.Some years over 300,000 units easily. The Astra is truly a bomb without equal.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Its is possessive. It’s is a contraction for ‘it is’.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The Saturn Aura, while being built in the US, is essentially an Opel Vectra.

    No, it’s a Pontiac G6 with Vectra-inspired styling. The Vectra shares the short-wheelbase Epsilon platform with the 9-3; the Aura shares the long-wheelbase version with the old Malibu Maxx, current Malibu and G6. The interior is also unique to Saturn and owes nothing to Opel.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    By the Slaone model I was referring more to the multiple brand structure. And the 1955 GM mindset that devolved from an over 50% market share. The suits at Ren Cen (ironic that it was originally a Ford project) today act “as if” GM still had that kind of market share. Hubris and arrogance, what a combo…

  • avatar
    slartybarfast

    DweezilSFV :

    The ION had it’s own set of compromises but the S Series did NOT reinvent the automobile. That’s a lot of hype, urban legend and Kool Aid drinking. It was barely competitive on introduction and got further and further behind over the years.

    The Ion had two large compromises 1) to go after the x gen market with gimmicks 2) to make the car less efficient then its predecessor. the shifting of Saturn from soccer mom mobile to Scion was probably brought on by the same thought process that produced the Pontiac Aztek.

    DweezilSFV :

    It was the 2000 model year before they did anything about the oil sucking problem. Smooth move.

    As I said before this was the single largest failure of Saturn/GM the inability to fix/improve a product, the oil burners turned a lot of people away from Saturn, as did the continually failing motor mounts and pcv valves (due to the oil burning)

    DweezilSFV :

    Car & Driver: “Better than what it replaced”

    Consumer Guide : “Saturn’s replacement for the sub par S Series”.

    Not hard to do with a car that had been left to wither on the vine for 9 years.

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