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Saturn Has Sharp Cars, Low Profile

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Apparently, not everyone hates Saturn the way some here do (even though I agree GM never should have started it).

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article...1014/BUSINESS01

Saturn has sharp cars, low profile

BY MARK PHELAN

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

To see the future of the Saturn Aura midsize sedan, you only need to look at the chiseled new Opel Insignia.

To see the future of the Saturn brand, which GM is remaking with a line of excellent, stylish and affordable cars and crossover SUVs, takes more work.

The stylish and expensive-looking Insignia is a dead ringer for the replacement for Saturn's acclaimed Aura, thanks to GM's strategy of combining engineering and design for Opel and Saturn.

The new Aura should go on sale next year as a 2010 model. The Opel Insignia is to go on sale in Europe later this year.

The Insignia's swoopy shape could pass for a BMW. Its range of equipment includes a new platform, an all-wheel drive system tuned for performance and handling. The Insignia looks like a promising car that will be a strong addition to what's already one of the industry's most attractive showrooms.

But can Saturn get enough buyers who want a stylish midsize sedan with European character and performance to enter those showrooms?

Saturn's sales are down 15.4% through the first four months of this year, despite the fact that the brand's current model lineup is the strongest and most appealing in its history.

The decrease can be attributed to dropping its aged compact Ion car this year. The Ion was Saturn's best seller, but it made little if any money for General Motors. Saturn's new models are selling at a much better price and drawing new, upscale buyers to the brand, but that's cold comfort.

"People aren't aware of the brand," said Rebecca Lindland, analyst with Global Insight of Lexington, Mass. "It's got great vehicles, but the market is so crowded. It's hard to get people to come into the dealerships."

Lindland cites the Saturn Vue compact crossover as a prime example: "It's head and shoulders better than the old model, but it's not outselling it.

"The problem has to be marketing," she said. "Marketing is the voice of the product; it's vital to get people into the showroom."

Saturn needs an effective marketing strategy more than ever. Its old models sold nearly exclusively on the basis of low cost and monthly payments. Vehicles like the current Vue, Aura, Outlook midsize crossover and Astra compact are vastly superior to the old Saturn lineup, but they also tend to cost more than what the brand's loyalists are used to paying.

At the same time, shoppers looking for well-equipped contemporary vehicles with European flair and room to carry a family never had a reason to visit Saturn before.

"Saturn as a brand has zero consideration among midsize car customers," said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics, a Birmingham consulting and forecasting company. "Today, they are selling really fine machines, but not enough people know it."

Despite that, Saturn has data to show its cars and trucks have begun to attract the new buyers it needs.

"There's a real upward trend in the demographics" of its buyers, said Matt Armstrong, Saturn car marketing manager.

Saturn's average transaction price rose a whopping 43% from 2005 to 2007, he said. The transaction price is what people really pay for a vehicle, including incentives and other deals. It's a better gauge of a brand's health than sticker price, because it reflects how desirable people find it.

The 2007 transaction price was $24,400 up from $17,100 in 2005, Armstrong said.

That reflects a brand that's moving from the bargain basement to some sort of status symbol.

Other promising signs include buyers with much higher average household incomes -- $81,000 now vs. $64,000 in 2005 -- and a significant rise in the number of buyers with college degrees.

"Just a year ago, the top three reasons peopled picked a Saturn were value, fuel economy and the price or monthly payment," Armstrong said. "Now they are exterior styling, value and fuel economy.

"That shows that people appreciate our new products. They're coming in because of the products, not because of the payment."

In addition to stylish new vehicles, Saturn is promoting its environmental image, stressing high fuel economy ratings for vehicles like the Aura, Astra and Outlook. It is also GM's point brand for gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.

Saturn should make a big splash late this year when the Vue becomes the first small vehicle available with GM's sophisticated and effective two-mode hybrid system.

"We're remaking people's expectations of the brand," Armstrong said. "It's an ongoing process, but we're on a great trajectory."

Moving Saturn from a cheap-and-cheerful brand to one that delivers vehicles as good as its legendary customer service is a huge challenge.

An early yardstick for success is whether the Vue outsells its predecessor this year. A more ambitious goal is significantly boosting Outlook sales.

Saturn's midsize crossover is selling at less than 30% the level of its cousin, the GMC Acadia. The only reasons for that are that people are used to going to GMC for high-quality family vehicles and GMC has more dealerships than Saturn.

The Outlook is as good as the Acadia, and its base price is $1,500 lower.

"The success of the Outlook and next-generation Aura will tell the tale" for Saturn, Hall said.

The Insignia bodes well for the Aura's future, Lindland said.

"It's a gorgeous car. Stunning," she said. "It has beautiful proportions.

"Maybe it can do for Saturn what the Malibu is doing for Chevrolet," she said, by posting major sales growth and winning customers from brands like Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

Contact MARK PHELAN at 313-222-6731 or phelan@freepress.com

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Uttt Ohhh, looks like Opel, ooops, I mean Saturn cars are taking off. :smilewide: As each year passes the line up between Opel and Saturn will draw ever closer.

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HAHA, hilarious. Saturn is a laughable failure. Think of all the money that has been poured into this experiment, and what is the result? sales DOWN... even with all the additional, new models! Insignia won't turn it around... even if it is a stellar product, Saturn has ZERO brand awareness. It will sit on the lots like the Outlook, Aura, and Astra, collecting dust. Astra is an invisible joke.:lol:

GM: the time is ripe to kill this failed division called Saturn. Put your money in Pontiac, a brand that has MUCH more awareness and potential than Saturn. Hell, if GM were to build and sell the next Corsa, Astra and Insignia here as Pontiacs with recognizable Pontiac cues, they'd be guaranteed to sell more simply due to the brand name.

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HAHA. Dumb post above. I think what the article was saying is that Saturn is about quality over quantity. I think its time to accept that Saturn is here to stay and let the car biz experts do their thing. We are just along for the ride anyway. Saturns are good cars, and I would not call either of ours a laughable failure.

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HAHA. Dumb post above. I think what the article was saying is that Saturn is about quality over quantity. I think its time to accept that Saturn is here to stay and let the car biz experts do their thing. We are just along for the ride anyway. Saturns are good cars, and I would not call either of ours a laughable failure.

Edsels were high quality cars in their time, as well.

Only difference is that the Ford family knew better to euthanize the brand after three years, rather than 20.

GEO was a better idea (and generally more profitable) than Saturn.

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insignia is a nice car. hope they keep that name. saturns marketing flat out sucks. saturn needs to gain the pretentiousness of the euro brands.

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Can't agree more that Saturn's lack of marketing has a direct impact on the brand's sales.

This is where guys like DeLorenzo (AutoExtremist.com) have it right...GM has too many brands, too many models and not enough advertising dollars to go around. And it's been clear that Saturn has been the one to suffer.

On the flipside, I think it was a good move to give cars like the CTS and Malibu a larger portion of the marketing budget. Otherwise, all cars and divisions would have had a miniscule budget - and in today's competitive environment, it takes a lot fo dough for your voice to be heard.

But going back to Saturn, it is good to hear that the quality of their purchases has improved. It can be hoped that "word of mouth" will compensate for a lack of ad dollars until GM commits more funds to increasing Saturn's showroom traffic.

After all, they've finally got good products...

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Only difference is that the Ford family knew better to euthanize the brand after three years, rather than 20.

Agreed. Sad but true! :lol:

GEO was a better idea (and generally more profitable) than Saturn.

even thought it did not even have its own dealer network.

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It seems like the Saturn message got lost after the 'Different kind of company, different kind of car' era....in the '90s Saturn marketing was a big part of their distinctiveness, a lot of people didn't even realize they were part of GM. Now, they are just one of many GM brands and have their best product to date...it's going to take a new approach (not sure what) to get the word out..

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I think the major mistake is the "Rethink American" campaign and the previous Aura/Camry/Accord comparison promotion. GM aligned Saturn with their European Opel division. Shouldn't the marketing reflect that the division now sells products with sleek Euro inspired styling and design? "Rethink American" and mainstream midsize sedan comparisons should be Chevrolet's role as the mainstream division. Saturn should be differentiated by marketing as well as by product. Its products should be given a unique and aspirational aura (no pun intended) by refocusing the division's advertising and marketing to communicate to the public that Saturn has been truly transformed into something beyond mainstream and ordinary. Great new products are a great start. Now the marketing needs an overhaul to emphasize Saturn's new midmarket, Euro inspired image and position to the public.

I do view the Vue and Outlook as potential tough sales for the division. The Outlook is overshadowed by the Acadia and Enclave from above and will be squeezed from below by the upcoming Traverse. The Vue has a tough future ahead as it struggles to retain or gain market share as other GM divisions introduce their own new or redesigned Theta based products (if I understand correctly, Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, and Saab will all have new or redesigned Theta based crossovers in their lineups). I think Saturn should discontinue their crossovers once the redesigned, next generation Opel MPVs (Meriva and Zafira) hit the market (the current generation of these two products are a little too dowdy). I also think Saturn could make more of an impact if it were to expand its car lines (Astra, Aura, and hopefully Corsa) once the next generation products hit the market. I see Corsa being sold here in 3-door, 5-door, and "TwinTop" roadster (rebadged Tigra to save marketing costs) versions. I see the Astra line being expanded to offer sedan, and "TwinTop" coupe versions in addition to the 3-door and 5-door models. The next generation Insignia based Aura's styling could be easily adapted to include a nice 5-door (there have been spy shots of this configuration) and a sleek "TwinTop" coupe to complement the sedan.

I don't think Saturn is dead weight, but its marketing campaign desperately needs an overhaul. I think tweaking the brand's portfolio would serve to further differentiate the division in GM's hierarchy and emphasize its Eurocentric image. The current lineup is a big first step, but there are more areas of opportunity in regards to lineup refinement and marketing focus for this division.

Edited by cire
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I also think that Saturn would be a better fit as a candidate to combine with Pontiac and GMC as a midmarket, captive import (at least as far as Saturn and Pontiac were concerned) dealer network. Saturn could offer FWD Opel based cars and MPVs, Pontiac could offer RWD Holden based cars, and GMC could offer FWD based crossovers (Terrain and Arcadia) as well as possibly offering 1 or 2 RWD car based trucks (similar in concept to the recent GMC Denali Concept).

If GM would sell Saab, they could combine Buick with Cadillac/Hummer to form a three part luxury dealer network. Buick would cover front wheel drive luxury cars and crossovers, Cadillac would cover rear wheel drive luxury cars, and Hummer could cover truck based luxury products.

Chevrolet would be on its own as the mainstream, mass market division. It would carry the largest and most varied portfolio since it would be the high volume division. All the divisions above Chevrolet would have limited and focused portfolios that would cater to a specific segment of the market as well as define the division's position in its respective dealer network.

I doubt this would ever happen, but I think it would provide a way for GM to better utilize and streamline their U.S. brands and make them all more relevant in the market.

Edited by cire
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It's marketing likely needs an overhaul...but the biggest problem right now is its reach.

With a limited ad budget, you're not going to see Saturn TV spots in high frequency on most channels. Same goes for print, radio, outdoor signage et al. Saturn needs a larger budget to enhance its media placement in order to effectively get its message out to consumers that - "hey, are cars are pretty damn good now, believe it or not!"

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Two divisions that could get the axe tomorrow are Hummer and Saab. What purpose does Saab even have these days? If people want luxury, they goto Cadillac.

Hummer is too much of a gas pig and is getting that reputation of being played out. Let's face it, the market has way too many other offerings to have a division based on off-roading monster vehicles like Hummer, so why not axe that?

I am now on my 3rd saturn myself. I bought an 08 Vue XE 2.4L and although the fuel economy isn't the best in it's segment, the vehicle is a solid contender. I just couldn't pick anything else over it because it had the most going for it. I'm getting alot of stares by people on the road, and positive comments from family, friends, and co-workers by how well-built this thing looks, and how expensive it looks. This is with the base XE with black plastic bumper trim and all. The XR's look even flashier with body-colored bumpers and dual exhaust, larger wheels, etc.

Honestly, if more people were aware of the Vue, I think it would sell very well. People usually default to Honda or Toyota because they know that those are relatively solid vehicles, however if Saturn poured some more ad dollars into their new products, they would do well. Look at how the Aura is only starting to get popular NOW compared to how fast the Malibu gained popularity. I'm sorry, but the Malibu rear-end is hideous and it's not as great as people make it out to be. The Aura has a classier look, and personally, I think it's a better-executed car overall. Again, too bad people don't know about it.

Pontiac, well it's great and all, but these days people are looking for fuel conscious vehicles, not performance vehicles. We'll see how the future of Pontiac looks like in 2-3 years when gas prices soar.

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To see the future of the Saturn brand, which GM is remaking with a line of excellent, stylish and affordable cars and crossover SUVs, takes more work.

CONTINUED:... from a company that has better suited and better recognized divisions and no money to build Saturn into what it was supposed to be.

The Insignia's swoopy shape could pass for a BMW.

Or a Toyota... Or a Hyundai... Ah hell, it's so bangled generic that GM could sell it under any badge, especially Daewoo.

Its range of equipment includes a new platform,

Try again...

an all-wheel drive system tuned for performance and handling. The Insignia looks like a promising car that will be a strong addition to what's already one of the industry's most attractive showrooms.
That no one knows about and no one walks into...

But can Saturn get enough buyers who want a stylish midsize sedan with European character and performance to enter those showrooms?

Probably not... But Pontiac could ;)

"The problem has to be marketing," she said. "Marketing is the voice of the product; it's vital to get people into the showroom."
What a surprise... We here at C&G have known this for 8 years... GM marketing sucks, BAD.

At the same time, shoppers looking for well-equipped contemporary vehicles with European flair and room to carry a family never had a reason to visit Saturn before.

They did, however, have a reason to visit Oldsmobile showrooms.

"Saturn as a brand has zero consideration among midsize car customers," said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics, a Birmingham consulting and forecasting company. "Today, they are selling really fine machines, but not enough people know it."
LMFAO!!! WAY TO GO GM!!!!! ANOTHER FLOP!!! Yay GM Europe! We couldn't have had such success without your (blind) input

It's not really rocket science that the average transaction price is going up considering the difference in product and the difference in positioning of the division.

"That shows that people appreciate our new products. They're coming in because of the products, not because of the payment."

Yep... All 12 of them...

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It's also GMs point brand for gasoline electric hybrids.
Not for long!

"We're remaking people's expectations of the brand," Armstrong said. "It's an ongoing process, but we're on a great trajectory."

If only the other GM divisions (Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick) had that kind of consideration from GM.

Saturn's midsize crossover is selling at less than 30% the level of its cousin, the GMC Acadia.
Which means Pontiac/Buick/GMC is the better channel that GM should be investing more in. Remember, GM HAS the product. It's the marketing and image that are broken. Obviously GMC has a better image in the market.

The Outlook will really die when the Traverse is released.

The Outlook is as good as the Acadia and its base price is $1,500 lower

Again, why is it a bad thing that GM is selling MORE HIGHER PRICED Acadias than Outlooks? Which channel is better again?

"The success of the Outlook and next-generation Aura will tell the tale" for Saturn, Hall said.
Well, the Outlook is already screwed and I expect the next Aura to sell ABOUT as well as the current one. So, are we looking at a Saturn phase out in 5 years or so? Not likely as GM will probably be bankrupt LOOONG before that.

"It's a gorgeous car. Stunning," she said. "It has beautiful proportions.

Sure, if you jack off over the proportions of a Camry.

"Maybe it can do for Saturn what the Malibu is doing for Chevrolet," she said, by posting major sales growth and winning customers from brands like Honda, Nissan and Toyota.

Well, since it looks like the same damn car, and the apparently all powerful GME is on its side. And Since Saturn apparently competes with Chevy anyway, I'm sure it'll kill and eventually we'll have Saturn positioned above Chevrolet in volume and global scale.

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HAHA. Dumb post above. I think what the article was saying is that Saturn is about quality over quantity. I think its time to accept that Saturn is here to stay and let the car biz experts do their thing. We are just along for the ride anyway. Saturns are good cars, and I would not call either of ours a laughable failure.

But it is and always has been.

The article pretty much says it too.

GOALS: 1) Outlook sales... DEAD 2) Current Vue outselling the previous one... The article says that this Vue is selling about 30% of what the old one was. 3) Next Aura... TICK TOCK.

Price is an issue and this will be especially painfull to the division when CAFE sets in and jacks prices up.

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Two divisions that could get the axe tomorrow are Hummer and Saab. What purpose does Saab even have these days? If people want luxury, they goto Cadillac.

I agree... But alas, apparently Saab has friends in the mass abyss of ignorancer that is the GM boardroom.

Hummer is too much of a gas pig and is getting that reputation of being played out. Let's face it, the market has way too many other offerings to have a division based on off-roading monster vehicles like Hummer, so why not axe that?
Hummer will be fine with new product

Pontiac, well it's great and all, but these days people are looking for fuel conscious vehicles, not performance vehicles. We'll see how the future of Pontiac looks like in 2-3 years when gas prices soar.

Umm... Solstice... G5... G6 GXP...

Perfomance doesn't always equal poor fuel economy and neither does Pontiac.

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A course was charted in the beginning with the S-series and unique customer care. That has all vanished, making Saturn just another variation on other GM cars. For that reason, Saturn sucks. Opels didn't catch on in the decades they were sold here earlier, what makes GM think they will catch on now? Saturn has become Opel USA v.2, I see no reason to celebrate the decimation of the original Saturn image before it was neglected, and then thrown out, by GM management.
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A course was charted in the beginning with the S-series and unique customer care. That has all vanished, making Saturn just another variation on other GM cars. For that reason, Saturn sucks. Opels didn't catch on in the decades they were sold here earlier, what makes GM think they will catch on now? Saturn has become Opel USA v.2, I see no reason to celebrate the decimation of the original Saturn image before it was neglected, and then thrown out, by GM management.

Largely agree. IIRC, Saturn's top-selling year is still... '94? Just 3 body styles with 2 engine options in one car design, and they can't seem to do any better. The only things I can think of that Saturn had then & doesn't have now are:

a) lower prices

b) a very different culture (compared to other companies & divisions at the time, compared to others still today, and compared to itself today)

c) it was newer (it being new probably helped spur interest)

It also may have been helped by the SC1 & SW1&2, which were new for '93, and may have still be new enough to help sales in '94.

I don't have the figures to be sure that '94 is still the top year, but that has been my impression.

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Actually I think your right. '94 was the best year for Saturn to date. I think we're forgetting though, Saturn as a whole, is a much better car these days than in the past. It has a stigma associated with it's products that is hard for people to forget.

Sure the new offerings are great. They are more stylish than ever before (as stated by several reviewers and publications), and the engines are more refined, and the interiors are up to par with others in their respective classes, however for the public to change its perception of Saturn, they need to be aware that their products do exist. They need to see how far Saturn has come since the cheap, polymer-panelled, noisy cars they used to be known for. Yeah the sales experience was great, etc., etc. but now the product is just as good (if not better) than the sales experience.

I'm now on Saturn #3, and for each of those 3 times I bought one, people always questioned what it was, how I liked it, and how it compares to (insert car here). They simply do not know about Saturn as they do about Chevy, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, etc.

Truth be told, alot of members on here are pissed off at GM for pouring some serious money into Saturn's revitalization. Sure they did, for the products themselves, but what about for advertising? GM needs to kill off a couple other divisions before they kill off the one major chance they have left. Kill off Hummer, and Saab. Neither of them are needed, and both of them are costing GM through the nose to keep alive.

Saturn needs time and brand awareness. Until then, their sales will suffer. They aren't a lost cause though, simply in the background.

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Actually, Saturn's revitalization was a bargain. Lessee...

Aura - platform already existed, most components already existed, styling based closely on Vectra (still had to design new panels since they're not shared, but they didn't have to pay out as much as styling from scratch), plus the development costs would have occurred for GM in developing the new Malibu anyway, so the costs are spread.

Astra - barely changed from Euro version, minimal investment for meeting US safety specs & shoehorning in a cupholder

Vue - A little more changed from Euro version (interior mainly), but still pretty minimal.

Outlook - A few panels developed to differentiate from Acadia, no big Saturn-specific investment.

Sure, it still took some bucks, and other divisions were jealous, but in the big picture it was a bargain basement makeover. Now the question is whether it helps ensure Saturn's survival because it's now part of a global brand and continues to have low development costs, or if it means they can kill of Saturn more easily, because it's not like Saturn has any unique product or production capacity they'll need to fill the void from losing in the US market...

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Actually, Saturn's revitalization was a bargain. Lessee...

Aura - platform already existed, most components already existed, styling based closely on Vectra (still had to design new panels since they're not shared, but they didn't have to pay out as much as styling from scratch), plus the development costs would have occurred for GM in developing the new Malibu anyway, so the costs are spread.

The Aura and post-05 Vectra C share the same bonnet panel.

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The Aura and post-05 Vectra C share the same bonnet panel.

Ah, I learn something every day. I knew the body wasn't the same, the lower fascia being shared isn't too big of a surprise, I guess. :)

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Ah, I learn something every day. I knew the body wasn't the same, the lower fascia being shared isn't too big of a surprise, I guess. :)

It's pretty much the same car from the A-pillars forward, with legislative differences to lighting and bumpers. The rest of the Aura's design was tailored for the longer Eplison platform of the Vectra estate. The Aura is arguably more handsome, though.

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