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GM Pares Divisions; Saturn On The Way Out


Saturn Logo

Saturn Logo

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"My personal favorite would be to see Saturn survive and prosper," said GM vice chairman and car guru Bob Lutz, speaking to Automotive News. "But frankly, the reality is that that is probably not going to be the outcome."

The rather wordy Lutz (he's sounded off a bit lately, given his job title change and impending '09 retirement) serves as the mouthpiece for Saturn's fate, which has been playing a game of musical chairs with other shaky GM divisions like Saab and Pontiac. As of today, it looks like Saturn is the one left standing.

2007 Saturn Ion 4dr Sdn Auto exterior left side

2007 Saturn Ion 4dr Sdn Auto exterior left side

Enlarge Photo

Lutz explained that GM "spent a huge bundle of money in giving Saturn an absolutely no-excuses product lineup, top to bottom...and the sales just never materialized." He failed to explain that GM spent that money far too late, after they'd already effectively damaged the brand's reputation beyond repair.

It's pure conjecture, but many feel that if GM had just pumped enough money into the brand in the mid-90s to keep its wildly popular SL and SC lines fresh and competitive, the brand would be uniquely poised to sell big in this down market with a collection of small, efficient, and funky-fresh designs. Legions of fans once attended Spring Hill love-ins homecomings, foamed at the mouth while describing dent-resistant polymer bodyside panels, and gushed about haggle-free dealer pricing. Homecomings for a car brand. How did GM fritter away public enthusiasm at a level eclipsed only by the Obama campaign?

Saturn Homecoming

Saturn Homecoming

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GM's "huge bundle of money" invested into Saturn resulted in the atrocious Ion, followed by nothing less than a spasm of badge-engineering. They took some pretty decent Opels and plopped Saturn badges on them (L-series, Astra, VUE). They also dismantled the hallowed Spring Hill plant, re-tooled it for Chevrolet Traverse crossover production, plopped a Saturn badge on that crossover's platform, and called it an Outlook.

Their enthusiasm might have bordered on mania, but we've learned that Saturn fans are not stupid. Fool them twice...

Lights out, Saturn.

[source: Automotive News]

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Comments (6)
  1. "Shorttermism reigns supreme"

    The problem for GM has always been shortsightedness. Saturn could and should have been the Japanese/Korean fighter with cool 4 cylinders, instead it just became another victim of bland badge engineering. As I have said before and will say again, the Volt should have been a Saturn. If Pontiac is going to be a one horese brand no reason Saturn couldn't. Rather than be a brand in its own right it could have become a sub brand of Chevy. All chevy hybrids could have been saturn's under the Chevy umbrella and dealer network.
    In the end it was an easy decision by GM and one given the current crisis had to happen. But a crisis that in part may have been averted if they had of properly invested in Saturn in the first place.
     
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  2. "Saab?"

    Getting rid of Saturn and keeping Saab? Yeah, let's give them another ten billion for this brilliant idea.
     
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  3. "Finally!!!"

    Saturn has been a money pit from day one. GM has invested millions into this brand. The only reason they sold early on was the gimmick of the brand. The cars were crap. Then when the gimmick wore off they had to rebadge other GM products to get people to buy them. They should dig a double wide grave and throw Saab in also or sell it to the Swedish goverment.
     
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  4. "what next?"

    Where is the private equity that is ready to buy a plant and a brand like Saturn and have a go at it? Well, unless GM actually goes into Chapter 11 (which is what is supposed to happen in cases like this) we'll never find out. Yeah, GM would take a big hit, but the paperwork is exchanged, the rebuilding begins and you're out of chapter 11 in 12-24 months. Instead, we're in this limbo and nothing will be resolved for another 4-8 years--not what the markets want to hear.
     
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  5. "Time and again"

    the American market has show disinterest in badge-engineered variants of European vehicles. Which is a shame, because the current Saturn lineup is actually very good. Previously, Saturn succeeded only at selling mediocre vehicles that were only of note because of how they were sold.
     
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  6. "Years of mistakes"

    Saturn never really convinced the old guard at GM that they were a viable company. GM tolerated the Saturn funkiness for a while, but I think the old guard wanted Saturn to die a long time ago. Compounding that was the unfortunate return to rebadging Opels. If you look back at GM's long history, this has been attempted several times but has NEVER been done successfully. The last nail in the coffin was the fact that these rebadged Opels stickered about $3000 too high for a "no haggle" pricing model. That cute little Astra 2-door was priced in the same range as a high-end Civic. Never was gonna happen...
     
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