Saturn smothered

Barring a miracle, the “different kind of car company” joins Oldsmobile and Lasalle in the GM graveyard in 2011. How did General Motors screw this up? Marty Padgett counts the ways:

It’s pure conjecture, but many feel that if GM had just pumped enough money into the brand in the mid-90s to keep its wildly popular SL and SC lines fresh and competitive, the brand would be uniquely poised to sell big in this down market with a collection of small, efficient, and funky-fresh designs. Legions of fans once attended Spring Hill love-ins homecomings, foamed at the mouth while describing dent-resistant polymer bodyside panels, and gushed about haggle-free dealer pricing. Homecomings for a car brand. How did GM fritter away public enthusiasm at a level eclipsed only by the Obama campaign?
GM’s “huge bundle of money” invested into Saturn resulted in the atrocious Ion, followed by nothing less than a spasm of badge-engineering. They took some pretty decent Opels and plopped Saturn badges on them (L-series, Astra, VUE). They also dismantled the hallowed Spring Hill plant, re-tooled it for Chevrolet Traverse crossover production, plopped a Saturn badge on that crossover’s platform, and called it an Outlook.

Every Saturn owner I know bought their cars largely because of the dent-resistant body panels. When the division gave up on them – and gave dealers rebadged Chevrolets, like the Relay minivan (anyone ever seen one on the road?) – Saturn’s fate was sealed.
Damian P.

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7 thoughts on “Saturn smothered

  1. I attended the Toronto auto show last night. The Saturn display (and GM’s in general) was a quiet as a morgue – not a bad metaphor. As for Chrysler, I didn’t even bother checking it out and from a distance, it appeared no one else did either.
    Sam:
    What are you talking about, Saturn was a UAW operation.

  2. I currently own two Saturns (a VUE and an SW1 Wagon), and would buy another one.
    Damn. I hope there’s some way the brand survives.

  3. Interesting article on the history of Saturn here:
    http://www.answers.com/topic/saturn-corporation-1
    Not quite sure what Sam means by “GM killed Saturn because the UAW could not tolerate the competition.” The UAW was intimately involved with the founding of the company. Apparently the ‘special relationship’ that Saturn had with the UAW was terminated in 2004.

  4. John,
    Mickey Kaus largely blamed the UAW for Saturn’s demise back in 2005. “the Saturn workers’ very competence threatened the continued existence of other, less competent parts of General Motors… The UAW, you could argue, was legally obligated to represent the interests of the majority of its members–and the majority worked in the unproductive parts of GM that Spring Hill threatened.” http://www.slate.com/id/2131180/ (12/3/05 @ 12:34 P.M.)

  5. Kaus missed the obvious: Saturn’s Spring Hill workers may have been “competent” compared to their UAW brethren elsewhere, But… AHEM:
    RELATIVE TO NON-UNIONIZED WORKERS, SUCH AS THOSE AT HONDA’s MARYSVILLE PLANT, THEY SUCKED. IN REAL TERMS, THEY SUCKED SO BAD THAT SATURN NEVER, EVER MADE A DIME.
    Between parasitic union rules, wages and the cost of insurance, Saturn never had a chance.
    I blame MANAGEMENT entirely for the problem though. They lacked the guts and the will to keep Saturn’s Unions in check. Think of it as the wages of wussiness.

  6. “I blame MANAGEMENT entirely for the problem though.”
    A prof at B school once remarked that management usually gets the union it deserves. I believe he was speaking about Canada Post but this was certainly true for the auto companies.

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