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The Death of Saturn


thedriver

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The Death of the Saturn Auto Company

(Alas, we hardly knew ye)

The upcoming Chicago Auto Show is touting a full lineup of Saturn’s best and brightest, an all-new lineup in less than two years, full of Euro flavored promise as the brand moves upscale to do battle with competition both foreign and domestic. But at what cost? The concept of affordability and innovation has all but left this young division of General Motors, to be replaced by high content in a slick package, the only remnant being the hope of bringing import buyers into the GM fold. This is by no means a condemnation of Saturn, only a reflection of what the company has left behind.

When the Saturn corporation was conceived in the late 1980’s it was meant to lead the GM charge against the Japanese onslaught, providing them with a small, well built car with such innovations of the time as plastic body panels, SOHC and DOHC highly efficient engines, their own factory shared with no one, and even an unusual way of doing business — the “no haggle” pricing strategy. None of these ideas were new, but they had never been combined in one place before. GM spent billions of dollars in creating the brand, but still hedged their bets, giving the new sedan styling close enough to Oldsmobile that the car could be moved over if necessary and an irony apparent since Saturn has moved into the market position of that now defunct nameplate.

The fledgling company became a phenomenon, selling three variations on a single platform, dubbed the “S-series”, with a coupe, sedan and wagon in trim levels from bare bones transportation to fully equipped runabouts, with a unique engine in two flavors, a specialized “lost foam” block casting process, plastic panels arranged over a steel cage, excellent fuel mileage and reliability unheard of from a domestic manufacturer. How many other carmakers have attracted such a following so quickly and emphatically that they attended an annual Homecoming at the headquarters in Spring Hill, Tennessee? And yet, if everything was going so well, why tamper with success?

Appearances can be deceiving. A hardcore fanbase and excellent product is not a winning business case if the sales dollars aren’t there. And they weren’t. The sizeable investment GM put in was never going to be paid back at the level of sales they were having, they needed more than a niche player. A thorough redesign for 1996 was not enough, something more was needed to shine in a crowded segment with ever more tough competition. The decision was made to dilute the formula.

Corporate decided one of the problems was lack of product. Trying to preserve the unique flavor of the company a new line was deemed necessary, something in a mid size but decidedly different. A solution was found at GM Europe, the Opel Vectra. Simply making a copy or importing wouldn’t do the trick, it lacked the Saturn character. The car was substantially reworked, adding plastic door panels and fenders, making the interior and exterior more “American”. It appeared in dealerships for the 2000 model year. It failed. The buying public never took to the car, even after a facelift.

The next step? The Vue SUV. It stayed closer to the original formula, plastic body panels, styling similar to the S-series, a product dedicated to Saturn. It worked far better; the sales met all expectations. But it was too little, too late. The different kind of car company was reeled back into the boat that was General Motors.

Different became the same. The Saturn Vue morphed into the Chevrolet Equinox and then Pontiac Torrent. The replacement for the S-series, now called the Ion stayed with the original formula, plastic panels and unique design, but chassis and engines were shared with the Chevrolet Cobalt. The eventual replacement for the L-series called the Aura shared many components with the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6. The Relay minivan, and even the latest Sky and Outlook are shared with at least two other divisions. The only part of GM allowed to keep to itself now is Cadillac. When Oldsmobile was closed down there was a gap left in the GM structure — the European-flavored, near-luxury competitor. Saturn was slowly being groomed for this position.

Where does this leave Saturn? Ostensibly in a better position to compete. Instead of one or two products there is a full line of five. More parts sharing means lower costs. Was this the right thing to do? Has Saturn lost its soul? Scion has shown that a niche player can be viable if the product is compelling, and the parent company is willing to be patient. But that parent also has to supply time and money, resources that have been scarce of late at General Motors. Saturn now has the product, if the perception of the different car company can be swayed to this new idea, Saturn will come out better than ever. But the little car company that could is consigned to history. The king is dead, long live the king.

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Saturn is finally not a thorn in my side.

Doesn't Saturn still owe like $479,284,526,098 to GM, before interest....?

Perhaps they can pay back GM by funding the rebirth of Oldsmobile!

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It's called sarcasm.... Live with it. :wink:

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The old Saturn may be "dead" but the new one hass GM's first vehicle that can beat the Camry...how many GM models can say that? Plu sthere's the Outlook, which is best in class along with it's siblings. Plus they're all lookers...I won't miss the "old" Saturn much.

And since when did Saturn have "soul"? Not until the Sky IMO.

Edited by Dodgefan
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And since when did Saturn have "soul"? Not until the Sky IMO.

Excellent point!

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Dollars are more important than souls and Saturn has throngs of loyal customers who like Saturn because its not typical GM. Many Saturn customers would be driving Toyotas or Hondas ormaybe even Hyundais instead of Chevys if Saturn didn't exist. That is why Saturn has been, and will be important.

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Dollars are more important than souls and Saturn has throngs of loyal customers who like Saturn because its not typical GM. Many Saturn customers would be driving Toyotas or Hondas ormaybe even Hyundais instead of Chevys if Saturn didn't exist. That is why Saturn has been, and will be important.

Right, but now the build cars people actually want and that are competetive.

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I for one would've never considered any of the old Saturns save for the Vue maybe. Count me in as loving the new Saturn. I will say I can understand the love for the old Saturn if that was your thing. The dent resistant panels were pretty nifty

Edited by big blue
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If 'Typical GM' means pwning the Camry in tests, and creating a crossover that reviewers love... then I am all for the 'death' of Saturn.

Besides, Saturn is still maintaining its no pressure sales system and friendly dealers, which is what helped get people into Saturn's.

Even without plastic, dent resistant panels, I think Saturn has one hell of a winning formula going for it.

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You also have to remember that even though it lost its "uniqueness" that your referring too, and has just become another brand, its done so to replace just another brand that GM phased out and at the same time being styled differently from all the other brands GM has IMO, thus giving it some form of uniqueness.

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Dollars are more important than souls and Saturn has throngs of loyal customers who like Saturn because its not typical GM. Many Saturn customers would be driving Toyotas or Hondas ormaybe even Hyundais instead of Chevys if Saturn didn't exist. That is why Saturn has been, and will be important.

Absolutely. According to Peter Drucker (Father of Modern Economics), a company should change according to the needs and wants of the customer. If a company stays rigid it will probably see the end of the road far earlier than it is supposed to. Saturn's customers drove it to where it is more than the managers who just listened to what the customers had to say.

If 'Typical GM' means pwning the Camry in tests, and creating a crossover that reviewers love... then I am all for the 'death' of Saturn.

Besides, Saturn is still maintaining its no pressure sales system and friendly dealers, which is what helped get people into Saturn's.

Even without plastic, dent resistant panels, I think Saturn has one hell of a winning formula going for it.

Good point. Saturn has gone through a transformation. Good or bad only time will tell for the long term. As far as the short term results are concerned they are certainly getting some. Sky, Outlook and Aura are pulling more crowd in a year than the L series might have in its entire life span. Moreover, if the customer service and the brand value are the same, what if the company changes? Changes are always good.

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The only 'uniqueness' Saturn has lost that is tangible to consumers are polymer panels, but most people were too ignorant to realize the panel gaps on plastic-bodied Saturns were the result of using polymer panels, not poor fitment.

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It it means success, then by all means, Saturn should die.

And develop a "funky" new soul.

Funky, of course, being the new look.

The old saturn was doing pretty decent, but left the way it was, would have died a slow death.

Heck, Kia would have started looking better...

They are great, kick butt cars....but now the new ones are packed with style, and still kick butt. :thumbsup:

GM needed to save money, so sharing makes more sense.

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Now just wait one moment!!!!!!! We have got some serious issue to deal with here.

I want to know are they still going to have the Saturn get together/picnic/Saturn love fest.

And if so where is the party now that they are leaving Springhill.

This is important now that Cool people will be there now not just a bunch oF Plastic Fetish, Pocket Protector, Bennie Baby, Tree Hugging, Needle Pointing, Trekkies.

Hmmm, Could we see the first Saturn wet t shirt contest?

Seriously I am glad to see how Saturn has turned around and it show the rest of us that Pontiac and Buick can be saved and we should at least let GM try to perform similar magic on them. If they could save Saturn the odds are good they might be able to do the same for them.

I wonder what the feelings of many on this site that called for the death of Saturn two years ago. Bet they feel different now.

With cars like these who needs plastic. Give the people what they really want a great car at a good price.

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I wouldn't feel any different now if I had called for the death of the Saturn marque some years ago because either Olds would have become Opel eventually as Saturn (Olds's technical replacement) has, or the additional availability of funds would have gone to Buick, Pontiac, Olds instead of Saturn and they would have become much better much quicker.

Sure, the Opel products have great styling and the Astra is highly acclaimed, but GM could have delivered the goods and great styling without relying on Opel, but that is the route they decided to take and there is nothing any of us can do- then, now, or ever.

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The only 'uniqueness' Saturn has lost that is tangible to consumers are polymer panels, but most people were too ignorant to realize the panel gaps on plastic-bodied Saturns were the result of using polymer panels, not poor fitment.

I KNOW! exactly.

another thing. everyone i know who was a big fan of the OLD saturn 'i.e. small cheap cars' were a bunch of tight assed cheapskates. Gm was never going to make any money off of Saturn's original fan base. these were people who wanted to buy a unflashy car and not buy another one for ten years and wanted to buy it dirt cheap. If GM wants to sell that stuff, they can build it in India now. The Saturn owners I know who were Saturn buffs are not any sort of bunch you could make a living off selling autos to.

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My ex-girlfriend had a 2000 or 2001 Saturn S-Series that she'd make me drive when she didn't feel like it. Mechanically it was a good, reliable, economical car. Other than that, the car was ugly, cheap, cramped and uncomfortable. I can tell you that I would never consider getting an S-Series, L-Series or Ion.

BUT after seeing the new products and actually being able to sit inside and inspect them at NAIAS, I'm beginning to actually like the brand.

Killing the old Saturn was probably the best thing for the brand. It made its existance have a little more meaning than just "cheap import imitator". Saturn gets to be its own thing now, not just a copy of Japanese economy cars.

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I KNOW! exactly.

another thing. everyone i know who was a big fan of the OLD saturn 'i.e. small cheap cars' were a bunch of tight assed cheapskates. Gm was never going to make any money off of Saturn's original fan base. these were people who wanted to buy a unflashy car and not buy another one for ten years and wanted to buy it dirt cheap. If GM wants to sell that stuff, they can build it in India now. The Saturn owners I know who were Saturn buffs are not any sort of bunch you could make a living off selling autos to.

:censored:

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