Golden Years of Saturn


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 Saturns 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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