BREAKING: RIP Saturn? Penske Walks Away After Failing to Find Cars

September 30, 2009

General Motors will shut down the Saturn brand after Penske Automotive ended negotiations on an agreement to buy the brand and dealer network.

Penske was unable to find any global automakers to supply him with cars. The agreement between GM and Penske had been under negotiation since early June, and was expected to close today or tomorrow.

GM's chief executive officer Fritz Henderson issued a statement of deep regret today, saying:

Today we learned that Penske Automotive Group (PAG) has decided to terminate discussions with General Motors to acquire Saturn. This is very disappointing news and comes after months of hard work by hundreds of dedicated employees and Saturn retailers who tried to make the new Saturn a reality.

Penske walked away after being unable to find any automaker who would provide cars to Saturn after a supply agreement with GM for the current Astra compact hatchback, Vue sport-utility, and Aura sedan, and Outlook large crossover expired in two years.

Penske Automotive Group said in a statement that it had an agreement with another manufacturer to supply it with cars, but that company's board of directors ultimately rejected the deal--presumably fearing a savvy U.S. competitor. Some analysts had surmised that company was French carmaker Renault, but Penske did not specify the manufacturer.

This apparently means that Saturn will be shut down expeditiously. From the GM statement:

As a result of PAG’s decision, we will be winding down the Saturn brand and dealership network, in accordance with the wind-down agreements that Saturn dealers recently signed with GM. Pursuant to the terms of those agreements, the wind down process will be determined and communicated shortly.

Current Saturn owners will continue to be able to get parts and service at other GM dealer outlets:

Saturn customers and owners will continue to be able to purchase and have their vehicles serviced at Saturn retailers during this process. Once the wind down is complete, Saturn owners will still be able to have their vehicles serviced at other GM dealerships. We will be communicating with our customers very soon to explain the next steps in this process.

The word "disappointing" may be an understatement on Henderson's part:

Today’s disappointing news comes at a time when we’d hoped for a successful launch of the Saturn brand into a new chapter. We will be working closely with our dealers to ensure Saturn customers are cared for as we transition them to other GM dealers in the months ahead. I’d also like to thank every GM employee and Saturn retailer who worked so hard to try to make this new beginning happen for Saturn.

As recently as yesterday, widespread reports indicated that the GM-Penske deal would close as early as today.

Early online reaction was simply shock at the evaporation of an all-but-done deal, although one Twitter user was able to derive bleak humor from the situation: The Sky is falling. The deal must've had a bad Aura.  Outlook is grim. There is no positive Vue. Kiss their Astra goodbye.

Shares of the Penske Automotive Group fell 12 percent, or $1.93, to $17.25 in after-hours trading.

[GM, Detroit News, Freep]

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