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Oracle of Delphi

European strategy seemed sound -- but Saturn sank

48 posts in this topic

David Sedgwick

Automotive News

February 13, 2009 - 11:42 am ET

I was a believer. I really thought Saturn could succeed -- if only General Motors would Europeanize the brand.

I saw the light -- or so I thought -- in 2004 during a GM press trip at a swanky resort in Fayence, a town near the French Riviera.

I offered Bob Lutz some free advice: Borrow Opel's cars for the U.S. market. American motorists would appreciate compact Euro cars with sporty handling.

He smiled -- Lutz was way ahead of me on this one. He invited me to join him down on the lawn, where half a dozen Saturns and soon-to-be-Saturns were lined up.

It was just before the Paris auto show. That evening, GM's senior executives wanted to explain how they were globalizing their product lineup. Saturn was Exhibit A. Displayed on the lawn were the Saturn Sky roadster and Aura sedan, the Opel Astra -- which later joined the Saturn lineup -- and the Opel Antara concept, which inspired the Saturn Vue crossover.

I gaped. Lutz and GM's product planners had Opelized Saturn. It seemed like a sure bet: GM had created Saturn to appeal to import intenders. Now it was the real deal.

The next day, we drove GM's cars over winding mountain roads to a racetrack that the company had reserved for the day. Lutz held forth at trackside, eating cheese with a knife and explaining the company's plan to go global.

I was convinced. That morning, I'd ridden shotgun with Fritz Henderson as he gunned an Opel Astra hatchback up a mountain road. A younger Sedgwick in need of affordable transportation might have purchased that car on the spot.

Five years later, Saturn is on the ropes. The cars aren't selling, and American consumers are oblivious to Saturn's European flavor.

What went wrong? Saturn couldn't make enough noise. It was lost in the cacophony of GM's eight brands. Lutz and GM have had a number of product successes -- the Pontiac Solstice, Cadillac CTS, Buick Enclave, Chevy Malibu.

But they were spread across all those brands. Perhaps if all those cars were Chevys or Cadillacs, GM wouldn't need a bailout. But how do you compensate all those dealers who sell the other brands?

I don't have any answer for that, and Lutz doesn't seem to either. But I can't help thinking that GM left a big opportunity by the side of a French mountain road.

Link: http://www.autonews.com/article/20090213/A...paign_id=alerts

Edited by Pontiac Custom-S
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Stick a fork in Saturn, they're DONE.

Pontiac should get down to business concentrating on a mostly-RWD

lineup, (too bad it can't be ALL RWD) and they should get any & all

the European sports-minded econo-boxes from no on. Kill Saturn.

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Stick a fork in Saturn, they're DONE.

Pontiac should get down to business concentrating on a mostly-RWD

lineup, (too bad it can't be ALL RWD) and they should get any & all

the European sports-minded econo-boxes from no on. Kill Saturn.

After you're done sticking your fork in Saturn, get ready to stick into Pontiac, It's a dead brand walking ...

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Well no f@#king $h!. I mean really. You take a brand known for economy cars, replace them with much more expensive cars, then don't market them. What the hell did they think was going to happen?

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Well no f@#king $h!. I mean really. You take a brand known for economy cars, replace them with much more expensive cars, then don't market them. What the hell did they think was going to happen?

Right On!

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why they keep buick and axe pontiac is beyond me. i get that saturn likely has to die, but pontiac IMHO can coexist with Buick.....and buick will NEVER appeal to a youthful demographic unless Jesus comes down to earth and turns a LeSabre into a......BMW3 or something.....

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why they keep buick and axe pontiac is beyond me. i get that saturn likely has to die, but pontiac IMHO can coexist with Buick.....and buick will NEVER appeal to a youthful demographic unless Jesus comes down to earth and turns a LeSabre into a......BMW3 or something.....

Funny, the Enclave has done a pretty damn good job at appealing to younger people. WHy? Because it's the first Buick in a long time that isn't styled boringly, and isn't half-assed. The new LaCrosse looks to continue this.

Buick makes sense because it still has cache as being premium.

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Funny, the Enclave has done a pretty damn good job at appealing to younger people. WHy? Because it's the first Buick in a long time that isn't styled boringly, and isn't half-assed. The new LaCrosse looks to continue this.

Buick makes sense because it still has cache as being premium.

^^^This
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I still think GM went the wrong way with their alignment strategies. Opel should have been aligned with B-P-G in an effort to take the network upmarket and position them away from Chevrolet. Saturn should have been aligned with the NUMMI arrangement since the brand was supposed to be an Asian import fighter that sold products that were developed outside of the GM "in house" corporate structure.

This alignment would have allowed GM to accomplish the following goals:

1) Finally and permanently position Pontiac upmarket, relevant, and totally separated from Chevrolet. With smaller and sportier Opel products available to B-P-G, Pontiac would no longer need to carry rebadged Chevy clone products.

2) Restore Saturn's original image as a brand that operates somewhat outside of GM's corporate influence. If the brand is supposed to appeal to people who are repulsed by the very thought of driving an "in house" developed GM product, then aligning Saturn with the NUMMI deal seems like it would have been a more logical direction for the brand (instead of trying to transform Saturn into Oldsmobile). A 3 product family of compact vehicles (sedan, coupe, and tall wagon) could have been developed on the Corolla/Matrix platform and produced at the NUMMI location for Saturn. This alignment would have really taken off last year when gas prices were more than double what they are now and many people were scrambling to find smaller, more fuel efficient rides. Saturn (which already had an established image as an affordable small car brand) would have been there ready to pounce on this opportunity instead of experiencing a brand image crisis that has crippled the brand and rendered the total endeavor as useless (although creating another brand was not the answer to GM's problems back in the 80's anyway; developing/building competitive products and delivering first class customer service within their existing brand structure would have been much more effective). If Saturn's initial setup (dedicated design team and manufacturing facility) was becoming too expensive for GM to maintain, then the NUMMI arrangement seems like it would have been a more cost effective "next best thing". NUMMI produced products certainly make more sense for Saturn than Pontiac, which is definitely perceived as being linked to GM's "in house" corporate structure by the general public in North America.

3) A Z4/SLK competitor could have been developed on Kappa for Cadillac. If Opel would have been aligned with B-P-G, then the Sky/Opel GT would have been the Solstice and GM would have been able to develop a true small luxury roadster on Kappa for Cadillac (which maybe would have been more profitable for GM and would have better justified the development money spent on the Kappa platform). Instead, GM developed 2 affordable variants that essentially competed with each other while essentially providing no profits from the Kappa platform (from what I understand, GM loses money on each one it builds).

Aligning the networks in this fashion would not have entirely prevented GM's current financial woes (if at all), but it would have at least better sorted out and positioned some of the corporation's brands as well as made the corporation appear (in Saturn's case) dedicated to producing smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles (which seems to be a major crusade of the government at the moment). How much better would GM look to the government (especially when asking for loan money) if it had a brand (Saturn) dedicated to compact products instead of an irrelevant "wannabe premium" fullscale division with a serious identity crisis (instead of a definite purpose)?

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I helped kill Saturn when it was outside the corporate structure, and I would do it again if it went back to that, as far as NUMMI is concerned, that deal should have died a long time ago, but I think what is about to happen to Pontiac will accomplish the same goal ...

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I helped kill Saturn when it was outside the corporate structure, and I would do it again if it went back to that, as far as NUMMI is concerned, that deal should have died a long time ago, but I think what is about to happen to Pontiac will accomplish the same goal ...

Yeah because apparently you guys at GM really know how to successfully structure the corporation. :rolleyes:

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I helped kill Saturn when it was outside the corporate structure, and I would do it again if it went back to that, as far as NUMMI is concerned, that deal should have died a long time ago, but I think what is about to happen to Pontiac will accomplish the same goal ...

So basically GM's arrangement with NUMMI is eventually going to dissolve? I have no problems with that. I am not a big NUMMI supporter either. I just thought that if GM is stuck in that arrangement, why not use it more effectively with Saturn? I wouldn't really be that disappointed to see both Saturn and the NUMMI deal disappear entirely. This would help GMNA to become more focused.

I would like to see Pontiac continue as some type of focused niche sub-brand in B-P-G. It will have to be in some form other than the RWD affordable performance vein that many people on this forum (myself included) would like to see for the brand, though. I think Buick should be the high profile premium division in B-P-G, but Pontiac could still play a small supporting role.

Edited by cire
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Funny, the Enclave has done a pretty damn good job at appealing to younger people. WHy? Because it's the first Buick in a long time that isn't styled boringly, and isn't half-assed. The new LaCrosse looks to continue this.

Buick makes sense because it still has cache as being premium.

Right On Again! Buick has the potential to become a cool and relevant premium brand. It just needs the proper products and marketing. Any potential Pontiac had to take on a high profile role in the premium segment was wasted when GM continued to feed the brand with blatant rebadged Chevrolet clone vehicles. I still think Pontiac has a place and could participate in B-P-G's move upmarket, but in a smaller role as a sub-brand. I think it will require less effort and fewer resources to make Buick relevant in a segment where it already exists than to try to move Saturn or Pontiac (brands that are saddled with an affordable image) upmarket.

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Yeah because apparently you guys at GM really know how to successfully structure the corporation. :rolleyes:

OUCH!

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Really it just needs to go down to Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, because that's all GM seems to be able to handle...but even then we've got FWD Caddies coming left and right...so I dunno if they can even manage 3 brands. there's no proper replacement for the STS/DTS, there wasn't even a planned one to be canceled, they just never seemed to bother. I doubt we will see Alpha. Hell I bet the new small Cadillac will be a Delta II.

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GM had decades to get it's brands managed and in order. It had the money then to provide them with distinct product, for many years. Yet it never did, so now the lack of money, which is mostly their own fault (with decades of crap and half-assed products with only a few exceptions) is just a convenient excuse why they have to kill off brands.

Sometimes it's really frustrating...because even now GM doesn't seem to know what to do. meanwhile, over at Ford...

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GM had decades to get it's brands managed and in order. It had the money then to provide them with distinct product, for many years. Yet it never did, so now the lack of money, which is mostly their own fault (with decades of crap and half-assed products with only a few exceptions) is just a convenient excuse why they have to kill off brands.

Sometimes it's really frustrating...because even now GM doesn't seem to know what to do. meanwhile, over at Ford...

Right On Yet Again! What's even worse is that the corporation compounded their issues by developing and acquiring brands while the perception of their existing brands continued to decay. GM should have focused on fixing their problems (uncompetitive products and below par customer service) within their existing brand structure instead of wasting effort and resources taking on Geo, Saturn, Saab, and Hummer. Anything that these brands had to offer could have been implemented with or developed for their existing brands. GM didn't need to waste money to develop or acquire additional brands to essentially accomplish nothing. If they were struggling to supply competitive products to Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac, why did they think they could do it with even more brands to support?

Edited by cire
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Yeah because apparently you guys at GM-E really know how to successfully structure the corporation. :rolleyes:

Fixed

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Yeah because apparently you guys at GM really know how to successfully structure the corporation. :rolleyes:

You will have to blame GMNA, not GME, they made all those decades of bad decisions. Don't be surprised if GM goes into Chapter 11, on 2/17/09, if that happens, kiss many brands goodbye and GM as you have known it will cease to exist. I kind of like what may rise from the ashes, but not too sure how many here will. But I'm sure you'll be able to Monday morning quarterback that too ... :rolleyes:

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You will have to blame GMNA, not GME, they made all those decades of bad decisions. Don't be surprised if GM goes into Chapter 11, on 2/17/09, if that happens, kiss many brands goodbye and GM as you have known it will cease to exist. I kind of like what may rise from the ashes, but not too sure how many here will. But I'm sure you'll be able to Monday morning quarterback that too ... :rolleyes:

It wasn't really directed at you, althought it may have seemed like it since you claimed to being killing Saturn originally to bring it in line with the "corporate structure".

However certainly a lot of people in charge are to blame for poorly handling the company for many years. And if you think that the corporate structure GM has is working well for it, I beg to differ.

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Also, for a devision that seems to claim itself as being able to do no wrong, I wonder why GME/Opel/Vauxhall have been looked down upon by Europeans for years?

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Also, for a devision that seems to claim itself as being able to do no wrong, I wonder why GME/Opel/Vauxhall have been looked down upon by Europeans for years?

Only in the latest generations has Opel really had anything worth importing to the U.S.

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I helped kill Saturn when it was outside the corporate structure, and I would do it again if it went back to that, as far as NUMMI is concerned, that deal should have died a long time ago, but I think what is about to happen to Pontiac will accomplish the same goal ...

I am just to the point where all I really want is a true Opel. So saturn will die, pontiac will die, and chevy is about to become rebadged daewoos. didn't want a chevy anyways.

Yuk, i just don't want a Buick.

NUMMI needs to fking die already.

Edited by regfootball
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Funny, the Enclave has done a pretty damn good job at appealing to younger people. WHy? Because it's the first Buick in a long time that isn't styled boringly, and isn't half-assed. The new LaCrosse looks to continue this.

Buick makes sense because it still has cache as being premium.

i've only seen the 50+ set (often with white hair) driving enclaves.

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