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Saturn: A Different Kind of Car Company, Indeed

Date: Sept 5, 2007


Author: Aura XR

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Original Article:

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Date: Sept 5, 2007

Source: The New York Times

Author: Jerry Garrett

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Saturn: A Different Kind of Car Company, Indeed
September 5, 2007, 12:25 pm | By Jerry Garrett | Link to Original Article @ New York Times

At least Oldsmobile got a decent funeral. Saturn got nothing.

A lot of people don’t realize General Motors killed a second division, Saturn, recently. That’s because there was never an obit. Why? For some reason, G.M. wants people to think that Saturn is still alive. But G.M. has not only killed it, it has dismembered the body and dumped pieces at undisclosed locations, and replaced it with an impostor.

Saturn, the automobile manufacturer, R.I.P.

Saturn design? Dead. Saturn engineering? Just as dead. The old Spring Hill, Tenn., plant, where Saturns were once made, lives on, albeit with a transplanted heart (Chevrolet pun intended). But Spring Hill now just churns out generic G.M. stuff, like any other G.M. plant. Saturn employees really don’t exist anymore, despite what it may say on a few business cards. Everybody sporting a Saturn logo these days merely sells “G.M. cars.”

Sure, Saturn-badged cars are still sold. But Saturn, the company, is now reduced to being the United States marketing arm for Opel. Opel is a brand of G.M. car sold principally in Europe.

How did G.M. so stealthily pull off doing away with the old Saturn, and replacing it with the new pseudo-Saturn? I don’t know exactly, but it was almost the perfect crime. It would be interesting to unravel this murder mystery and identify the culprits. (Seems like G.M. could just as easily revive Oldsmobile by slapping Olds badges on, say, G.M.’s cool Holden vehicles from Australia!)

My colleague Lawrence Ulrich noted in his review of current Saturn-badged models that Opels are nice cars. Maybe Saturn is better off dead.

But the point is, I think the old Saturn deserved at least a memorial service. Proud Olds employees gave their old brand an almost Irish-quality wake, despite G.M.’s disdain.

I know a guy (I won’t use his name, because he still works at G.M. and is not allowed to talk about such things with the press) who was one of Saturn’s first 99 employees (known, believe it or not, as “the 99″), back when the “different kind of company” first started ramping up in the early 1980s to build “a different kind of car.” Everybody moved to Spring Hill to the new Saturn headquarters, where the vehicles would be designed, engineered and assembled. It was a heady time for those early pioneers, as they set out against long odds, to “reinvent the automobile,” as G.M. had charged them to do. Saturn was always a big money-loser for G.M. (G.M. won’t say how much the loss was), but customers were loyal, and resale values of Saturns were generally stellar, even if their reliability records weren’t.

“The sad part of this,” this fellow recently told me, “is that the Saturn system did, in my opinion, work although it had problems. It could have been a benefit to G.M. by helping it do things differently, but instead of building it up, G.M. killed it.”
Somewhere, true Saturn-lovers fly their flags at half-staff

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