GM Takes Saturn Out of Its Orbit

Before my brother graduated high school he crashed two vehicles, pretty much precluding me from getting a new, expensive or flashy car for my 16th. Instead my father opted to buy me a Saturn, half expecting me to ruin it within the first few months. Turns out I’m actually a really good driver. This October I’m celebrating my sixth anniversary with my Saturn. It’s been reliable, fuel-efficient and perfectly adequate. Honestly, I love my Saturn. Unfortunately, not enough Americans felt the same way, and apparently neither does Penske Automotive Group.

Last week Penske sent yet another shock through the American auto industry when it backed out of a deal to buy the rights to market Saturn through other producers. The deal was shady and shaky from the beginning, as it did not actually allow Penske to make Saturns. Any sharp corporation would have feared the feasibility of such an exchange, but we’re talking about GM here.

It was earlier this year, when GM went into bankruptcy, that it announced plans to dump Saturn. In June, Penske expressed interest and GM was content to end their search for potential buyers there. Now they have little recourse; with no buyer in sight, GM intends to kill Saturn. There is a stop on new Saturn production and the current stock is expected to disappear by January, along with 13,000 more American jobs. Unless, of course, by some miracle a viable company swoops in to buy Saturn and bail GM out of yet another snafu.

For the sake of the American economy, we can only hope this happens. I want to save Saturn, because I’ve grown partial to my S-Coupe, but mostly because I think we have to. Saturn was innovative in its production, in that it centralized the entire production process in one location. One site could host production from start to finish, and for many Saturns that location was Spring Hill, Tennessee. Today, a third of Spring Hill is facing lay-offs. And surely the death of Saturn will only further decimate the land of hopelessness and unemployment that is Detroit, where Saturn’s headquarters are.

Is our economy ready to suffer another collapse of an all-American company? Reviving Saturn will not only save jobs, it could actually be a profitable venture.

Saturn itself was not a floundering business. It sold cars and made money. But not enough for the likes of GM. GM treated Saturn like its bastard child, who it was ashamed to claim relation to. In fact, GM invested so little effort into advertising its connection with Saturn that a 2008 survey revealed most Saturn drivers didn’t know their car was a GM product! No doubt this hurt sales. Many people distrusted Saturn because they didn’t know what it was or where it was from. Had people known it was American made and governed by GM they probably would have had more faith in its quality and would have been willing to buy Saturns.

But GM felt it was too good for this budget, alternative brand. Not only did GM not want to taint their Buick reputation, but they didn’t want to invest in a low rewards game. A new Saturn sells for around $14K, while production is cheap, that means that the production margin must be small. Buicks retail in the mid to high 30s, so selling one Buick is like selling two Saturns – GM decided they’d rather sell one than two. They thought it was the easier road. Too bad no one really wanted Buicks anymore either. GM was turning a profit with Saturn but they were too greedy to accept the smaller, yet consistent, profits Saturn could offer.

Granted, Saturns are not the most aesthetically pleasing, nor do they have a laundry list of upgrades, but they get you from point A to point B. In the past, Americans’ tastes didn’t really mesh with that, but with today’s restricted pocketbooks, Saturns could be a great choice for more than just new drivers, college students or single mothers.

If some company were to take over Saturn, they would have the blueprint for a successful automotive brand – inexpensive, unpretentious and functional cars. They would also find a public willing to consume their product. Finally the US automotive demand is beginning to match the pragmatism of its European counterpart.

We’re now more open to buying cars that are efficient and enough to do the job. Saturn will (thankfully) never make a pink Hummer or some ridiculous complement. It will make cars that Americans can use, and now during the present financial crisis, cars that Americans need.

It’s too bad that GM has to forfeit what could have been a steady, lucrative enterprise. But they blew it. Their apathy and incompetence cost them the company in the first place and their stupidity and laziness cost them the chance to find a solid buyer for Saturn at a decent price. Now they’ll have to take any offer, if they can even get one.

All I’m saying is that a company should take advantage and buy Saturn. Don’t think of it as saving GM, think of it as saving our economy.

Contact Deena Mueller at

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