Fall of Saturn

If you are a fan of Saturn vehicles, then you must ask a question – Why did Saturn fail ultimately as a company? I have some theories that I would like to share with all of you. For starters Saturn failed for a few reasons – namely product that isn’t so great and a failed plan for expansion of the brand that led to too much competition with the other brands of the parent company. Saturn had the no-haggle pricing policy and friendly service, which was great, but that in itself isn’t enough to sell a car to someone who isn’t interested in buying it.

f we are talking about the product we must go back to the first s-series generation. The first generation S-series sold very well. They were decently put together, had reasonably appealing styling, good fuel economy, and were competitive with what the other auto companies were offering at the time.  Also Saturn vehicles have highly rated roofers.  People really liked those, although the larger body gaps required to use the plastic contributed to the perception of poor quality by some auto magazines. A lot of critics always said that the seats weren’t particularly comfortable and that the car wasn’t particularly fast. Although, they always had kind words about a driving experience and reliability of a car.

Then, they continued with some boring cars, until GM got involved. GM decided to expand the Saturn brand with larger vehicles that people had something to move up into (which in my opinion was a mistake). In the midst of the truck/SUV/minivan popularity, Saturn instead got a midsize sedan – the L-series in 1999 – which was based off the European Opel Vectra. Nice try on GM’s part to leverage what they’d already developed for Europe. They should be better if they decided to mix with limos. So we could had the most high-end Beverly Hills limo service, that is basically a Saturn. The styling was so bland that they actually had a commercial where all the other cars were actually cardboard boxes to emphasize how stylish the L-series was. Fashion models don’t go around telling you that they’re beautiful.

GM clearly wanted to spend as little money as possible developing unique vehicles for Saturn, so at first Saturn got rebadged European vehicles, which was sort of OK since those vehicles weren’t available in the US. Then they got rebadged American vehicles, which was pointless.

The L-series was replaced in 2006 by the Aura, which did away with the plastic body panels, and unfortunately was almost exactly the same as the Chevy Malibu. In 2005 Saturn started selling the Relay minivan, and in 2007 Saturn started selling the Sky roadster, which was the same as the Pontiac Solstice. So toward the end Saturn had a lineup of cars, but they were all badge-engineered and sold at GM’s other brands. They also lost the plastic body panels, which was one of the major selling points in the early days. By the end Saturn had absolutely nothing unique about it, except for the no-haggle pricing.

So do I blame everything on General Motors? Yes I am.

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Someone asked me the other day do I know the most high-end Beverly Hills limo service. I didn’t know the answer, but it got me thinking about it. And with some strange thinking, I thought about Saturn vehicles. Don’t ask me how, it just happened. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me refresh your memories.

 

The Saturn Corporation is a registered trademark established on January 7, 1985 as a subsidiary of General Motors in response to the success of automobile imports in the United States. The company marketed itself as a different kind of car company, and operated somewhat independently from its parent company for a time, with its own assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, unique models, and a separate retailer network. Following the withdrawal of a bid by Penske Automotive to acquire Saturn in September 2009, General Motors discontinued the Saturn brand and ended its outstanding franchises on October 31, 2010. All new production was halted on October 7, 2009.

Still don’t remember these cars. Let me tell you about golden years. In July 1990, GM Chairman Roger Smith and UAW President Owen Bieber drove the very first Saturn off the assembly line in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The brand was marketed as a different kind of car company, and Saturn operated outside the GM conglomerate, with its own assembly plant in Spring Hill, unique models and a separate retailer network.

Results at Saturn, however, were more doubtful than positive. The project was too ambitious, as everything at Saturn is new: the car, the plant, the workforce, the dealer network and the manufacturing process. Not even Toyota, a highly successful and experienced automaker, tackles more than two new items on any single project. While Saturn cars proved very popular with buyers, actual sales never met the optimistic projected targets, in part because of a recession in 1990. It also proved cannibalistic as 41% of Saturn buyers already owned a GM car. It’s separation from the rest of its GM parent, plus the fact that it drained $5 billion from other car projects, stirred anger and resentment within GM’s other divisions. Also, Saturn opened at considerably higher cost than the Japanese transplants. Nonetheless, the brand was immediately known for its no haggle prices.

The first Saturn model, the S-Series, was significantly successful. A year later, Saturn hit the Canadian market. 499,999 b1959ba3ef94297fd86d1c04659e08d1Saturns later, Carla entered the market in 1993. In May 1995, Jasper, Saturn’s Millionth car is produced. In 1996, Saturn Dealerships distributed the electric General Motors EV1, the first car released under the GM marque. In 1997, Saturn became the first General Motors North American vehicle to be fully built with right-hand-drive on the same assembly line as the left-hand-drive vehicles (the previous right-hand-drive GM North American vehicle were built in the countries with left-hand road rule using the CKD kit and customized dashboard and steering components) as it entered the Japanese market. January 1999, Saturn rolled out its two millionth car. Later that year, Saturn began production of its all new L-Series.

Later Saturn fail as a company. Why? That’s a whole different sotry. I just wanted to remind people of those great years when Saturn was great.

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