Saturn To Be Saved By Detroit Businessman

Good news for Saturn-lovers, the brand is close to being saved by Roger Penske, a Detroit businessman who runs the Penske Automotive Group (PAG) chain of dealers, and distributes the Smart line of mini-cars in the US. The Detroit Free Press says that the deal will have GM manufacturing Saturns for two years, after which Penske will be looking for a new manufacturer.

From the DFP:

“We will have a supply of vehicles for at least two years with existing brands, and we have been in discussions during this diligence period with a number of manufacturers on a worldwide basis,” Penske said today. “We would expect to have a line up going forward, which would be manufactured by a worldwide partner.”

The WSJ says the deal will save 13,000 jobs at 350 dealerships. Penske plans to keep Outlook crossover, Aura sedan and Vue SUV, but ditch the Saturn Sky roadster.

GM: Saturn-Penske Deal Saves 350 Dealerships, 13,000 Jobs [WSJ]
GM, Penske reach tentative Saturn deal [Detroit Free Press]
(Photo:Plankton 4:20)

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  1. Kaellorian says:

    Is it too late for me to buy Edsel from Ford? Same probability of success, I’d imagine.

    I’d love to be his lawyer for the sole purpose of being able to say that I’m working on “The Penske File.”

    • Hank Scorpio says:

      @Kaellorian:
      You’re not Penske material!

    • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

      @Kaellorian:

      Why so negative? What is it about Saturn that you think makes the brand inherently unsuccessful?

      • Kaellorian says:

        @Cant_stop_the_rock: Simply put, GM is getting rid of it due to poor performance. With Saturn’s savior getting rid of the only good looking car in the line-up, I’d imagine that very little will change in terms of sales.

        • cabjf says:

          @Kaellorian: But perhaps they are selling poorly because they have been a GM also-ran brand for quite a while. Once they start getting some unique product in the pipes (from other (presumably) European automakers), then I would expect their sales to increase. This is all assuming proper management, which is something Penske is known for.

      • PSUSkier says:

        @Cant_stop_the_rock: Well I can’t speak for him, but I don’t like the guy because he distributes that Mercedes abomination that is the Smart Car.

        On a related matter, I can’t help but wonder how far an Expedition could punt one of those in the event of a head-on collision.

        • BacteriaEP says:

          @PSUSkier:

          Ya god forbid somebody distribute a small fuel efficient car amongst the over-compensating, over-consuming American behemoths that currently drove (punny!) GM, and Chrysler into the ground today.

          • nataku8_e30 says:

            @BacteriaEP: I think the Smart car has done pretty poorly because it is not particularly fuel efficient, especially considering it’s size. It’s current EPA rating is 33/41 where most, considerably more practical 4 seater minis are more like 28-30 / 34-37. Plus, for a while they were trendy and commanding relatively huge price premiums. Yes, they make since in an urban only environment, but most of the US is not setup for that, and they perform very poorly on the highway and are subject to wind buffeting. The real cherry on top, though, is the complete POS manu-matic, single plate dry clutch gearbox, which give you all the fun of driving an automatic with all of the discomfort of teaching your kid to drive a manual. I have no idea why the couldn’t just sell a stick shift version over here…

          • PSUSkier says:

            @BacteriaEP: Like the Prius/Volt/Fusion hybrid etc.? We’re already doing that (even better in most cases — the current gen Prius tops 50 mpg where the Smart fortwo gives you a whopping 40mpg for a smaller/crappier/uglier than Kim Jon Il car (all MPGs highway).

        • Andrew Norton says:

          @PSUSkier: Yeah, because weight is the ONLY measure of crashworthyness isn’t it.

          Lets COMPLETELY forget right now that a Smart is still heavier than an F1 car. By your ideas, an Expedition is safe, because it’s heavy. Go crash one at 150mph then, see how ‘safe’ you end up, because you can do that in a light F1 car (600kg, or 1300lb, give or take) and walk away.

          Little tip in case you didn’t know. Smarts have been sold in europe for years. There are big vehicles on european roads. not piddly 2-3 ton SUVs, 40-45ton semis. You know what, they handle accidents with them ok, and such accidents are a little more common, because in Europe, you get RHD and LHD trucks and roads mixed together.

          BTW, a 3tonner at 55mph, has about the same energy as a 2toner at ~70mph. Plenty of that in Europe. PS, if large vehicles are so safe, why do large american-spec vehicles score so badly in european crash-tests?

          • PSUSkier says:

            @Andrew Norton: Oh I know, I was bumming around Europe about 6 months after their conception. My reaction then? “Holy crap, I can’t believe Mercedes had a hand in designing something that ugly.” However, I did give it kudos for being very practical in the streets Paris for maneuverability.

            The quip above about punting the vehicle was supposed to be mostly jocular, but just because it supposedly holds up well in those types of crashes, simple physics dictates the occupants of the heavier vehicle are going to be in a much better position regardless of how you slice it. But I digress.

            My real point is, aside from the compact size, which is great for perhaps D.C. and the like where that is actually potentially useful, there are just very few legitimate reasons to own one of those cars when there are far more efficient full-size vehicles operating on the road.

    • H3ion says:

      @Kaellorian: Best description of Edsel I ever heard was that it looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.

  2. neuracnu says:

    Does Saturn still practice the No-Haggling buyer experience?

    • Heresy_Fnord says:

      @neuracnu: Yes. The price on the car is what you pay. You can however haggle over your trade in and any other special things. I get more on my trade-in and I got free tire / wheel coverage plan on my 08 Saturn Sky Redline.

  3. GMFish says:

    It’s my guess that in two years all Saturns will be made in China.

    • Skankingmike says:

      @GMFish: they would hardly be profitable then or they’d have to be made extremely cheap and I doubt they’ll meet any standards.

      There’s a reason many Japanese cars are made here in America The importing fees and shipping costs are very high.

      Which is why a German car is expensive or pretty much most European cars.

      They’ll maybe be made in Mexico but not China.

      • GMFish says:

        @Skankingmike: @Skankingmike: “They’ll maybe be made in Mexico but not China.

        Good point.

      • docrice says:

        @Skankingmike: German cars are expensive because you’re buying a brand name – most US market BMW’s are built in America, and most VW’s are built in Mexico. Mercedes and Audi, to my knowledge, are built in Europe, and thusly are expensive, but as premium brands they’re expensive anyways…

        • xkevin says:

          @docrice: Only the X-series vehicles are assembled in America. At one time the Z4 was as well although I think production is moving back to the USA with the expansion of the Spartanburg plant. All engines are built in Germany IIRC.

      • Heresy_Fnord says:

        @Skankingmike: They’ll more then likely be Renault cars. French, not Chinese.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @GMFish: Is saturn union or non-union? If union, they will be made in china or mexico. If they are non-union, there is no reason to move them.

      • Sudonum says:

        @Corporate_guy:
        Union, they used to have a separate agreement with the UAW, but from the article I read this morning Saturn is part of the GM/UAW master agreement.

    • xkevin says:

      @GMFish: Close. Penske has said that he wants to import cars from Renault Korea (Samsung Motors). What’s interesting though is most of Saturn’s current vehicles are offshoots of Opel, which was just [quasi] sold to Magna. Saturn could have the potential to grow into a real threat if it can offer a mix of quality Euro/Asian autos.

  4. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    Saturn’s Demise Delayed for 2 Years By Detroit Businessman

    There, fixed it. Who else doubts he’ll be able to pull this off long term?

  5. mechmike says:

    Anybody remember Penske Auto Centers?

    [goliath.ecnext.com]

    • Megladon says:

      @mechmike:

      I’ve always had great experiences with Penske in the past, and they’ve always given me what I considered a good value for my money, or atleast better then what I could get elsewhere. I hope he is able to save this brand as its the one I hoped to get for a new car (when I’m in the market that is).

  6. lpranal says:

    Meh, IMO, saturn died 6 years ago when they stopped making their “own” cars and became just another homogenized, redundant GM branch. Maybe we’ll actually see the death of Zombie-saturn, and the rebirth of good american cars?

    Yeah, I’m not holding my breath either.

    • TWinter says:

      @lpranal: Agreed. The Saturn S-series cars were great and had a decent base of fans and they killed them and replaced them with crap.

      I read not too long ago that the typical Saturn S-series buyer has drifted over to the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla – the main cars that appeal to that demographic. GM had no good alternative for that buyer demographic.

    • Heresy_Fnord says:

      @lpranal: OH ok. So now that someone else has control over Saturn, that’s it? It’s impossible for them to be “alive” again to you? Nice short-sided view there.

  7. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    This could give Saturn a very interesting possition in the market…

    Not manufacturing any cars on their own they could rebadge the best cars from outside North American markets and import them. They don’t have any of the development and manufacturing headaches… they just buy in bulk and import them.

    So every time you see a really fantastic car you wish was available in US-Canada, but isn’t, send an email to Saturn and ask them to bring it in.

    • GreatWhiteNorth says:

      @GreatWhiteNorth: They could even give boutique car makers access to the car buying public through their dealership structure.

      This is getting better the more I think of it.

    • Snarkysnake says:

      @GreatWhiteNorth:
      “rebadge the best cars from outside North American markets and import them.”

      Hey – You could work in the car biz. That’s what they are planning on doing. Right now,the working plan is to import Renaults built in South Korea to sell alongside the Saturns that they keep. Penske already is responsible for distributing the Smart in the U.S. He’s a car guy and very sharp. If there is anybody that can pull this off, it’s him

      BTW- The Saturn that exists today is not the hug-a-bear cute concept that was born in the early 90’s. GM corporate politics ensured that “a different kind of car company” could never survive inside of GM. No way to know how they will manage it under Penske, but here’s hoping that they broom all traces of their GM heritage.

  8. Geekybiker says:

    Wow. He wants to save the brand, but ditch the only interesting car in the lineup? He’ll hemorrhage dealers left and right. Plus in the future is he keeping the RD team, etc? Have access to all the test facilities? I’d trust Saturn in the future if it was a smaller auto maker buying it, but some random guy in detroit..

    • ARP says:

      @Geekybiker: That’s what I’m wondering. Will he create new cars? Or will he simply import/rebadge other cars? The rebadging is good from a short term financial perspective, but when you can’t control the quality of your product in any meaningful way, you’re reputation is at the mercy of others, who may have different priorities.

    • madanthony says:

      @Geekybiker:

      Penske isn’t “some random guy in Detroit” – Penske Auto Group is the second largest dealer network in terms of revenue in the US, and he’s already the exclusive distributor for the SMART minicar.

      As far as the Sky, it’s a cool car, but sales volume is next to nothing. Besides, given that GM is also about to kill Pontiac, the only other brand that has a twin to the Sky (the Solstice), I’m guessing that there probably won’t be a Sky to sell even if Penske wanted to sell it.

      • MSUHitman says:

        @madanthony: I won a Sky 2 years ago from the Midway video game company. If my car a collector’s item? Or am I screwed because no one will want it if I ever decide to get a new car?

  9. H3ion says:

    A new design is reported to take three years. Penske will have two regardless of where he does his manufacturing (maybe Brazil?). I couldn’t tell from the reports whether Penske was acquiring the GM Saturn design personnel as well as the marque. If the new Saturn is just a continuation of the old, I wouldn’t bet the ranch. If he changes the design and improves build quality, he’s got a decent shot. BTW, the Saturn Sky is just a rebadged Pontiac. With Pontiac going down, it probably makes sense to junk the design.

    • TechnoDestructo says:

      @H3ion:

      Junking the design has nothing to do with Pontiac living or dying. Even if they’d kept both companies, it would still have been going away. It never made a profit (even being more expensive than its competition) either in Pontiac or Saturn form, because it was too expensive to manufacture. Supposedly it used so much hydroforming that it cost too much to make. This is an issue with the Kappa platform, not either of the specific cars based on it.

      Looking at General Motors in terms of brands and models causes nothing but confusion. Think about them in terms of platforms and a lot of things become a lot clearer (like why Buick has such a reputation for quality while Pontiac doesn’t).

    • MSUHitman says:

      @H3ion: I own a Sky I won from Midway Games and it surprises me it sold so poorly. I’m always getting curious glimpses and questions about the car.

      • H3ion says:

        @MSUHitman: Actually, it’s a pretty good looking car. So’s the Pontiac version. I don’t know how it handles but at least its looks will turn heads. I understood that the problem was pricing. It was too costly for its target market and didn’t have enough performance for the enthusiasts who would view it as a Corvette substitute.

    • elganador says:

      @H3ion:

      Actually, both the Pontiac and the Saturn are based on an Opel roadster design.

      I always thought the Sky was the much better looking of the two, but everyone I saw with one of them had the Pontiac. Granted, the Sky has a VERY plasticky interior…

  10. MikeF74 says:

    Yay. Maybe this will keep my Saturn Vue from losing what resale value it had left.

    Our Vue has been very reliable. It has a Honda powertrain after all (and is one of the main reasons we bought it). The interior is boring as all hell, but the engine hasn’t give us one problem after 5 years / 55K miles.

    • Anonymous says:

      @MikeF74: Be careful! Depending on the year your Vue was made, it could have major transmission problems on the horizon.

      I have an ’03 Vue that I bought in ’06. Last summer, the transmission completely failed (at 50k miles). Of course, it was BARELY out of warranty, so Saturn said at first that I was on my own–but a little digging on the internet turned up a class action law suit because this transmission failure is widespread and Saturn knew those stupid disc transmissions were crappy all along. After I told Saturn I was planning on joining the lawsuit, they quickly agreed to pay for the new transmission my vehicle needed AND offered a new extended warranty on the new transmission.

      I know that I felt very betrayed by a brand that had built itself on being honest with customers and making reliable cars. I had to strong-arm them into doing the right thing by taking legal action. I will never buy another Saturn.

      The only glimmer of happiness I get from this turn of events is that maybe they’ll still have to pay out the $ I’m owed from the law suit settlement!

  11. Raanne says:

    Wow – this just made Saturn go way up in my mind. But only because I have high expectations for the Penske brand. They also own the “Smart Car” brand which I’m sure people have seen popping up here and there the past couple years.

  12. K-Bo says:

    @Kaellorian: I have a family member who reads a lot of the auto industry insider magazines, and really GM’s reason for getting rid of Saturn is a little backwards. They are selling them not because of poor performance, but because they are the only brand they can get a buyer for. I guess they are planning to use the money from the sale of Saturn to try to strengthen their other brands. I’m not holding my breath to see it happen though.

    • nataku8_e30 says:

      @K-Bo: They’re also selling it because it has the least intertwined dealer network, and is the most “independent” of GM’s brands, so it is much easier, both legally and from a marketing perspective, to sell them to someone else. It would be much more difficult to sell a GM brand that’s been producing cars for 50 or more years, hence the death of Pontiac and Oldsmobile.

      @Kaellorian: Penske is the man, and Saturn has a pretty good vehicle lineup that has not been well marketed. They will do fine. This has me much more interested in purchasing a new Saturn, although it won’t be for several years yet.

    • Kaellorian says:

      @K-Bo: I’d love to see them flourish, but it has always struck me as such a blase brand. I drive an American car and absolutely love it – and as a former BMW driver, I believe that says something. I’m optimistic about Ford, wait-and-see on GM, and “meh” on Saturn. I just don’t see it as much of a stand alone brand. Saturn isn’t Cadillac or Lincoln.

  13. sir_eccles says:

    I guess we will be bailing out Penske in 2 yrs time then.

    Basically there are too many cars being made by several orders of magnitude. You just have to look at the huge car parks of just manufactured cars to know this.

  14. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Realistically, how many people actually bought the Sky? It’s an interesting car, but is it worth keeping?

    • ARP says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Exactly. It was one of those cars that was really interesting and you’re glad it was made, but you’d never actually buy one.

      • Heresy_Fnord says:

        @ARP: Speak for yourself, I bought one. There are only about 4 or 5 roadsters that are reasonably priced and the Saturn is the best for the price.

        The Honda S2000 costs about the same if not more and has less HP. The Mazda MX-5 has way less HP and costs the same, the BMW Z4 is definitely a nice car but costs WAY more and also has less HP.

        For a sports roadster, you can’t beat the Sky Redline.

    • crymson777 says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: It’s an awesome drive….but the RX-8 from Mazda is better

    • MSUHitman says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: I have one and I really like it. There’s no trunk room though and the standard version doesn’t have a lot of horsepower.

      • Heresy_Fnord says:

        @MSUHitman: The standard has enough HP for the average driver to be happy. It’s at least comparable to the Mazda MX-5 (and it costs less)

    • chucklebuck says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: If I was in the market for a car, I’d totally buy a used one (or a new one if its impending demise made it about the same price as a used one). I find them to look suh-weeet.

    • Heresy_Fnord says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: I love my Sky Redline, thanks. 16k miles and running strong.

  15. Bs Baldwin says:

    Ditch the Sky, that car is the brand’s Halo Car.

    This what they should do:

    Keep the Sky, it makes the brand look attractive
    Ditch the Outlook and Vue and create a crossover/wagon like the impreza
    Keep the Aura, and build from its popularity

    The problem with Saturn through the years has been that the brand had no reason to exist after 2001. Make saturn the brand that embraces customer service, quality and vehicles that make sense for consumers to buy.

    Also keep the headquarters as far away from Detroit as possible, that place is a just a cesspool of ideas.

    • Jim Topoleski says:

      @Bs Baldwin: I’d keep the Vue and make a wagon version of the Aura personally. The L series wagon was a nice car, a bit dated looking but still nicer than the Malibu MAXX.

      I would totally have gotten a Aura wagon over the Aura I did. More room for computers. As it is my Aura trunk is huge, I can easily fit 5 old style iMacs (IE CRT models) in the trunk without flipping forward the seats.

  16. egogg says:

    ah HA! Time for Mr. Penske to start workin’ on the new EV2. And not crush them this time.

  17. jokono says:

    @nataku83: Speaking of Saturn and fuel efficiency – I used to own a 2002 Saturn SL2. At the time, I commuted 110 miles every day for work, and that little sedan averaged ~38 MPG. One week, I even managed to get 42 MPG — I must’ve had a tail wind each way on a cool day.

    Saturns are EASILY as fuel efficient as Smarts and some hybrids. They’re just not as prestigious/pretentious. And, admittedly, they’re not very good looking.

  18. iammoses says:

    Does anyone else HATE the current Saturn ads where they have the “employees” tell some touching human story about dedication, reliability, and assurance that Saturn/GM is gonna be there for you. I HATE those ads, GM/Saturn needs to drop the bs, this is a company that will let people die rather then fix a product because it’s cheaper for them. This is a company where the CEO fatten themselves at the expense of it’s workers. Ihope Penske can make it work but GM/Saturn should stop wasting taxpayer money on these BS ads.

    • Jim Topoleski says:

      @iammoses: Are you that dense? really?

      Because this whole paragraph is full of stupid.

      • iammoses says:

        @Jim Topoleski:
        [www.cnn.com]

        I don’t see what I said was untrue,here is a paragraph from that CNN news story that is a good example of beancounters gone mad.
        -Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety said: “General Motors concluded that there were about $2.40 worth of deaths each year, spread out across all cars. Unless they could keep the price to less than $2.20, it wasn’t worth it to General Motors to prevent those burn deaths in General Motors vehicles.” -
        If you wanna believe those ads that GM/Saturn give a dam about the consumer then go ahead, but I say to them we are just a dollar sign.

        • Jim Topoleski says:

          @iammoses: I take it back you are just a idiot.

          You dig up a ELEVEN year old article, UNRELATED TO SATURN (who btw at that time was a separate entity of GM and not part of the fold like they have been the last 5 years) with people who DONT EVEN WORK FOR THE COMPANY anymore and expect to be taken seriously.

          Get off the internet please.

          • iammoses says:

            @Jim Topoleski: [auto.howstuffworks.com]

            I don’t see how you can say GM/Saturn are separate companies. GM has always called the shots to some degree, check out that bio from howstuffworks.com about the history of Saturn and you will see Saturn has never been an indepent company.

            From the CNN article earlier, “Ivey Report, written by GM engineer Edward Ivey in 1973.” stated that they could prevent fuel fires for about $2.20 per car but instead choose to, “Unless they could keep the price to less than $2.20, it wasn’t worth it to General Motors to prevent those burn deaths in General Motors vehicles.”

            This was known in 1973 and the CNN article is about an accident in 1981, GM knew about the problems for 8 years. Their ads may try to say they are on our side but I believe we are nothing but dollar signs to them.

  19. Jeff Talbert says:

    I was happy to hear about this. But after reading the comment, manufactured by a worldwide partner. Penske is doing no more than buying the rights to the name, and the contracts with the dealerships. Its just going to end up being a rebadged Nissan, or Toyota, or a car from the PRC. I am not so excited about this anymore. It would have been nice to have this be a different kind of car from a different kind of car company. Does that motto sound familiar? Thats what Saturn use to be..

    • Jim Topoleski says:

      @Jeff Talbert: Thats all that was being sold to begin with.

      GM killed Saturns manufacturing ability when they re-tookover the company. The Spring Hill plant that was Saturns became Chevys.

  20. FooSchnickens - Full of SCAR says:

    What? Ditch the Sky? It looks 100000000000000000000^10 better than the solstice. >:|

    Oh well, I’m glad to see the brand survive. Who knows, maybe it will do good enough outside of GM that they’ll be able to become their own brand and start manufacturing back in the states.

    • Jim Topoleski says:

      @FooSchnickens: the platform is gone.

      After this year the Kappa platform is being retired, so they have no choice. Even the Opel GT is being put out to pasture.

    • Heresy_Fnord says:

      @FooSchnickens: The factory is gone, not the platform. They are not making the sky /solstice anymore because the factory is being closed by GM. Please get your facts straight before you spread misinformation. One could argue the platform is being retired but the original reason is because the place that makes it won’t be around to make it anymore.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I hope he makes it work. Saturn has a lot of potential to really be a different kind of car company. I woudl love to see them take advantage of a global market and decentralized auto building supply chain. They could have unique styling with good things like Honda engines and no-haggle dealerships.