Tag Archives: Saturn

What’s Next for Saturn?

1 Apr

Left Lane News is reporting that Saturn has found a “long term partner” to take it beyond its 2011 separation from General Motors.

There is no word yet on the company with which Saturn has come to terms, and for all I know the whole thing is just an April Fools’ joke.

But when I read it, the first thing I thought of was Renault.

Renault sells the same sorts of quirky family movers that Saturn is known for. Renault has been sniffing around for a ready-made way to re-enter the US market after the demise of AMC. Although Renault is aligned with Nissan, it would make more sense for Renaults to be sold here under a separate, existing dealership network and not lumped in with Muranos and Sentras.

And if they come, I’ll be looking to replace one car with a Fiat 500 from Transitowne, and the other with a Grand Scenic from Renault of Clarence.

Saturn Dealers Don’t Want to Close

19 Feb

Some Saturn dealers, upon hearing that GM wants to kill the brand, want to spin the marque off from GM. Recall that Saturn dealerships are singular and free-standing.

I would tend to agree with this notion, because it’s become quite evident that the domestic automakers’ attempts to compete with Japanese, Korean, and European cars have almost uniformly become a game of catch-up. So, if Chevy, GMC, Pontiac, Buick, and Cadillac can’t compete effectively with Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Acura, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, or VW, it makes some sense to retain the Saturn dealership network and use it to try and compete.

Because Saturn was just getting interesting.

After a decade, give or take, of selling tinny crap with plastic doors that looked like it was designed in 1988, Saturn was starting to get good. The Aura, the new Vue, the Astra, the Outlook – these are not only good cars, a couple of them are cars I’ve actually considered buying because they’re well built and well designed.

Saturn is supposed to get the new Opel Insignia, which is about as close to BMW luxury as a domestic automaker would ever get for under $30,000. The Astra is built in Belgium. The Outlook is as good as the last-generation Honda Pilot.

So the Saturn dealers might be able to band together and keep the brand alive through a deal with Opel, GM’s European brand. Opel is the source of the Insignia (Vectra’s new name, and the 2011 Aura), the Astra, and could decide to bring the Meriva and the Zafira – its mini-MPVs – to the states to compete with the Mazda5 and the European Fords that are supposed to start being shipped over here soon. The Corsa could easily compete with the Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit. Opel offers an entire range of stylish and fuel-efficient vehicles. With some tweaking, its diesel engines could be adopted stateside.

On the other hand, if GM puts Saturn for sale, it might provide one of the Chinese automakers like Brilliance or BYD an entree into this market. On the other hand, there have been rumors that Renault might be looking to re-enter the US market, and a ready-made distribution and dealership network are just waiting to be gobbled up. (My personal preference would be to see ┼ákoda come to the US. Their cars are more conservatively styled than VW’s, cheaper, and better-built.)

Even though the economy is in the tank right now, this is not going exist in perpetuity. Now is a good time for an ambitious company to strike on re-entering the US market to compete on the design and fuel-efficiency front.

GM & Chrysler Look for $35 bn Combined

17 Feb

I’m not a bank aficionado, so don’t ask me about the bailouts or the Swedish model for nationalization or anything else. I haven’t read the stimulus bill signed into law today, so don’t ask me about that, either.

I do know, however, that GM and Chrysler are in trouble after 3 or 4 decades of making cars and trucks that are/were, for the most part, a bunch of crap. The Dodge Charger I rented in Vegas was nice enough, but it was rough enough around the edges that I’d never consider buying one. The Dodge Caravan I rented in Florida last year was adequate, but seemed to be light-years behind the class-leading Honda Odyssey. GM has gotten better, but not across the board, not for every car.

So, GM needs $30 billion, will eliminate 20,000 jobs by 2012, and will put Saturn to death by 2011 and consider getting rid of Hummer, too.

Chrysler needs $5 billion, and will eliminate a few thousand jobs.

If I was GM, I’d throw out the Saturn name and just import or build Opels, and let the Germans run it. I’d sell Hummer, and I’d re-configure the entire operation to enable it to be quicker to market with new cars, and get plants to be as modern and efficient as those anywhere else in the world. If I was Chrysler, I’d hire some new designers right away and start an entire new line of vehicles across the board. Jeep should have 3 – 4 models, and Chrysler should focus on luxury while Dodge focuses on muscle cars like the Challenger, and mid-range passenger cars. The Fiat deal gives Chrysler access to small, fuel efficient cars, and luxurious stuff like Alfas.

Every SUV should be available with a common-rail diesel engine for economy. Every car should have a diesel or hybrid engine option. GM and Chrysler both need to innovate not just in terms of engine technology, but also with respect to interior design and perceived quality. It doesn’t take much – hell, just copy a new Hyundai and it’d be an improvement over all of what Chrysler shits out and half of what GM bothers to try and sell.

When the car market is in a slide, the most innovative and economical cars are going to do well. GM and Chrysler don’t have too many of those, but Honda is going to sell a $19,000 4-door Insight that gets close to 60 MPG. Honda’s sales may be down, but it doesn’t have its hand out. During the SUV boom, it chose to innovate with the Pilot and Ridgeline while still investing in the Insight and Civic hybrids. Toyota built 4Runners and Highlanders, but it also built Echos, Yarises, and Priuses.

GM? It built Silverados, Cobalts, and a decade’s worth of awful Trailblazers. Chrysler built fugly Sebrings and $40,000 Grand Cherokees with rental-car interiors. No wonder they’re in trouble.

Their paths to salvation don’t lie in staff reduction or bailouts or plant closings. They must innovate and build cars that can compete with the Germans, the Japanese, and most pathetically, the Koreans – the country that gave us a joke called a “Hyundai” in 1985, and now builds the Genesis, which puts most of GM’s cars to shame.

This is Not Your Father’s Saturn

11 Dec

The bailout plans show that GM will be focusing on brands that don’t include Saturn, so there is lots of expectation and consternation that GM might kill off Saturn. So much so that a grassroots movement has sprung up to save the brand.

It would cost GM $3 million per dealership to kill Saturn off – just when its cars were getting interesting, too. So, I propose this. A makeover and name change for Saturn that would preserve its current stable of cars and eliminate one GM brand by simply incorporating another, existing one.

West-Herr Opel? Opel of Clarence? Why the hell not. This new sedan – the Opel Insignia, which is the next Saturn Aura – kicks serious ass:

And the “sports tourer” station wagon looks a lot like the Audi Q7 from the rear:

That sort of interior and exterior design enables GM to compete with the best that Japan, Korea, or Europe have to offer. Killing off Saturn as a brand may make sense – not building cars like this Stateside doesn’t.

Bail Out Some Company that At Least Tried

12 Nov

Honda builds almost all of its domestically sold vehicles in Canada and the US.

Toyota builds almost all of its domestically sold vehicles in Canada and the US.

They are innovative, have good mileage, have sometimes-cool, sometimes-bland design, and sport class-leading interiors that have high perceived quality. They have been doing this for at least a decade.

What’s Detroit’s excuse, exactly? The big competitor to the Accord and Camry is the Malibu? The pre-Fusion Contour? (The Fusion is better, but still light-years away from being a Camry or Accord, interior design & feature-wise). For waaaay too long, Detroit practically ignored passenger car R&D and design in favor of bigger and thirstier trucks and SUVs. Until very, very recently, GM’s Saturn sold cars with such shitty design, inside and out, that they could easily be substituted for Ipecac.

And they deserve a bailout?