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Imports take over from GM's import-fighter

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Imports take over from GM's import-fighter


Mark Rechtin

Automotive News -- February 14, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

Parts Manager Brad Hanson, Service Manager Willie Bethon and service techs Jaime Ojeda and Rick Grill have worked a combined 60 years for Saturn's dealership group in San Diego County. They wonder whether they'll have work now that General Motors Co. has pulled the Saturn brand from the five showrooms.

"We're not guys who bounce from job to job," says Ojeda, 42. "Am I worried? Oh, yeah."

San Diego Saturn Retailers, a dealership group owned by Laird Mooney, once had five scattered boutique stores and sold about 450 new Saturns a month. But when negotiations between GM and potential Saturn buyer Roger Penske began to stretch out last year, the group pre-emptively shuttered three stores, leaving it with dealerships in Kearny Mesa and Escondido.

Saturn was to be GM's way to lure customers back from the import brands dominating California. But it's the imports now cleaning up from Saturn, with the three former San Diego Saturn stores sporting Kia or Subaru signs.

Sign comes down

On this day , the Kearny Mesa store was required by GM to take down any reference to its connection with Saturn. The dealership will become an independent service garage, perhaps connected to a Motor Trend certified used-car lot.

Hanson has been scrambling to unload $400,000 in Saturn parts, a number he has been whittling from the $1 million he held late last year.

The Escondido store will continue to sell its remaining 30 Aura sedans. Whether it will stay open until the Oct. 31 drop-dead date for the franchise is another matter.

As "Big Girls Don't Cry" plays over the dealership's speakers, General Sales Manager Eddie Binder admits to being frustrated to lose the Saturn buyer base. Saturn buyers, he says, are "good customers, with deep pockets and good credit."

When the Penske deal fell through, saddened Saturn customers brought cakes and pies to the Escondido dealership to cheer up the staff. What's uncertain is how long that loyalty lasts, once the stores become independent.

"Each of the three Saturn points we closed, service and parts business dropped by 50 percent within a couple months," says dealership COO Marva Sadler. "We've had loyal Saturn owners say they're never going to buy another GM product again."

The Kearny Mesa store is seeing the slump, says service tech Grill, who was certified to work on GM's EV1.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100214/RETAIL07/302159964/1078#ixzz0fc4Mh0yG

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I'll guess that the lion share of those SATURN retailers will end up selling Imports. Some will shut down while others will end up used car lots. The smallest share will be selling GM cars. Those SATURN customers may very well stick with the dealer they have been doing business with for years.

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kia and hyundai have picked up a lot of these locations. VW, here in a couple spots.

Its too bad Saturn and Pontiac has to go, but now Chevrolet is charged with making up for those customers. Tall order in some ways, but Chevy ought to have the resources now to be able to execute a better product line. A lot of chevy dealers though in facility and attitude, need badly to modernize.

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IF I remember right, the Saturn business plan had many of these dealers selected for their expertise in selling import cars in the first place.

The local outfit that opened the FOUR Saturn retailers in this area didn't own a single import dealership in the first place. Now all will take their Saturn expertise and sell imports.

Edited by RjION
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