Nissan/Renault, Saturn, Penske Rumors Merge
Bloomberg reports that Renault/Nissan is looking at partnering with Penske Automotive Group to make a bid for the Saturn dealer net, according to “people familiar with the matter.” Nissan wants to use more of its North American capacity to build Saturn-branded vehicles based on either Nissan or Renault products. Penske would distribute the vehicles through existing Saturn dealers, using its “plug and play” model already in use with Smart dealerships. In this arrangement, Smart takes customer orders and deposits via a Web site, allowing dealers to keep fewer cars in inventory. Would this work with a larger model line? Does Nissan/Renault really want to compete with itself? Does GM really have another month to solicit offers (as it plans to) for Saturn? Will those offers improve over the next month? Er, maybe, apparently, no and definitely no. Still, if Penske and Nissan want to pull the trigger, it’s hard to see how GM could say no. And maybe, just maybe, Saturn could once again become America’s most innovative dealer network.
One thing that one almost never hears is that the so-called Saturn dealership network is shrinking as we speak. Here in Wisconsin, the major Saturn franchisee closed four of his six outlets. While these are in smaller cities, it still strikes me as a major hurdle when the fairly large dealership here sits completely empty but with the Saturn name still prominently displaced out front. Not a good advertisement for future success.
"Please, get in your Renault and leave me. Here are ze keys and ze balloons." Saturn is dead. Sure, there are still some dealers left. But also a few Studebaker dealers are hanging on.
I wonder if Nissan Renault would get the Spring Hill, TN Saturn plant as part of the deal. Good fit geographically with Nissan NA headquarters and other Nissan plants in central Tennesee. Maybe the Saturn brand would allow Nissan and/or Renault to experiment with a "plug and play" distribution model separate from the Nissan dealer network. If it fails, Saturn brand and dealers take the hit, not Nissan. Slapping another brand on a Nissan has been done many times. Nissan Renault already make Samsung brand cars in Korea. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renault_Samsung_Motors Also make the Suzuki Equator. http://www.suzukiauto.com/equator/
Forget the Saturn name though...Bring back Datsun Baby!!! This would also allow Penske to rebadge Smart Cars as the modern LeCar.