Corporate Welfare

On Saturn, People Live To Be 19


How diseased does a community have to be before public health requires the government to wipe it out? It's hip to refer to General Motors as a "cancerous" phenomenon, but in fact GM is contagious: Everything that gets near it turns into failure.

As I noted in June, GM's deal to hand off its Saturn division to the former race car driver and automotive innovator Roger Penske was unlikely to lead to survival for the too-sullied Saturn brand. Yesterday, the second death of Saturn began, as Penske, GM. and Renault Samsung Motors Co. all confirmed that the deal had fallen through and that Saturn production and sales will end as slowly and painfully as possible. At the National Post, Patricia Cancilla has a good analysis of why the arrangement, which would have had Renault do the manufacturing for Penske to sell in the U.S. market, was probably doomed from the start.

Say a fond farewell with this bit of corporate history from MSNBC's Paul A. Eisenstein:

It didn't help that the officials in charge of GM's other brands linked arms and fought hard to prevent the upstart division—billed as "a new kind of car company"—from getting the resources it needed to expand its product mix and attract more buyers.

"We didn't quite strangle the baby," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said, in an interview early this year, "but we told it to go out, get a job and pay its own way."

By the time Lutz joined GM as its "car czar" in 2000 and began shifting resources toward Saturn, it was already a dead division walking, so to speak. Over the past few years, Saturn has vastly expanded its line-up, with products like the compact Astra and Vue crossover winning generally rave reviews. But even the brand's more loyal customers had already largely moved on. By 2008, sales had plunged to an anemic 188,000 units, less than the original Saturn subcompacts alone had averaged. The decline only worsened this year as word spread that GM would abandon the brand.

I would not recognize a Saturn if it ran me over, but the brand showed every sign of becoming competitive, with the above-mentioned loyal customers and policies on haggling and customer service that have (so I'm told, though I have seen first-hand evidence to the contrary) since become industry standards. Saturn was hamstrung by something not mentioned here: It was for girls.

Those "officials in charge of GM's other brands" (and at the UAW, which never liked Saturn Corp.'s more flexible contract) were status-stunted males so disgusted by the idea of innovation that they consciously chose to starve something every normal retailer would give a limb for. Saturn customers didn't just like the product but felt real fondness and familiarity toward the brand. And this wasn't treated as an opportunity to exploit but a problem to be solved.

General Motors isn't the only American company that can screw up a wet dream. It's probably not even the screwup company that is getting the most taxpayer dollars to keep screwing up. But it's the most toxic. What's good for America is the total liquidation of General Motors and the firing of every person, labor and management, who works for the company.

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28 responses to “On Saturn, People Live To Be 19

  1. Cool, remember me works!

    Hey Tim, you forgot to sign your post.

    1. Reenabling the preview functionality is next on our list.

      1. Strike Through!
        For Zog’s sake! We need the Strike

  2. Actually, that’s only 10 months in Saturn years.

    1. That’s why their warranties are so great. Most people assume its earth years and start paying for work after that time. The smart ones read the fine print and get lifetime maintenance.

  3. What’s good for America is the total liquidation of General Motors and the firing of every person, labor and management, who works for the company.

    Sez anonymous blogger.

    My money’s on Cavanaugh, too.

  4. I had Saturn SL2 for some years. It was a nice car but it every manufacturer had a model that looked just like it.

    It had plastic side panels. When I sold the 7 year olod car the the only body damage were some hail dents on the hod and top. It was still getting 22/32 mpg

  5. “What’s good for America is the total liquidation of General Motors and the firing of every person, labor and management, who works for the company. ”

    Why do you hate GM/America so much?

    Seriously, I’ve been saying this since before the bailout. In fact, I’d actually wager that liquidating GM and Chrysler both would actually improve competition among American car companies…since feasibly each brand could be purchased separately and set-up as a stand alone car manufacturer. But no…that’s just to damn easy.

  6. What’s up with the anonymous post?

    1. Well it’s nice to be remembered, but what happens to my email and website anyway?

  7. Much as the thesis of this post is on point, Penske pulling out of the deal isn’t about GM management. It’s about Penske finally waking up to the reality that turning the Saturn brand into the automotive version of 2006’s flood of no-name Chinese-made scooters was never going to work. Car companies need to actually make cars.

    1. Understood. Just taking the opportunity to point out reason # umpteen why GM must die.

    2. I don’t know about that last; Saturn was on to something when they brought over the Opel and rebranded it as Astra. It’s a great little car (Yes, I realize Opel is part of GM/Europe, but I was hoping that Penske would follow up on that by selecting good cars from builders and then rebranding. It works for many other retailers)

  8. my mom had a a green sl2 that i wrecked twice, the last time for good. man that car was ugly. she is the epitome of the loyal saturn customer, she’s purchased a new saturn every 4-5 years and is quite sad to learn of it’s demise.

  9. Count me as a Saturn fan. We’re on our second one, and I regret there won’t be a third. Back in 1994, there was no American car that was as reliable, and looked as cool as the SC2 for the price. And, I do love the no-haggle pricing and good service.

    I mostly blame the unions for the demise of GM, but management definitely played a huge role. Damn bailouts.

    1. The management and GM are one in the same. No, not literally, but they are hooked up to the same life-support systems. They are symbiotically entwined. It was the same with Chrysler. The UAW likes to see itself as a separate entity from the companies. Yes, they keep a different corporate address, and file paperwork seperately, but they are eachother. Afterall, a GM bailout is a UAW bailout. You think that’s lost on Obama?

  10. Threading blows and makes following conversations of any significant length annoying at best.

    1. I agree. Without a version that shows posts in chronological order (possibly with a link to the replied-to post, in lieu of visual cues), conversations are bound to die a premature death.

  11. “”””General Motors isn’t the only American company that can screw up a wet dream. It’s probably not even the screwup company that is getting the most taxpayer dollars to keep screwing up. But it’s the most toxic. What’s good for America is the total liquidation of General Motors and the firing of every person, labor and management, who works for the company. “””

    I think you are wrong, Goldman Sachs beats out any US company as the most toxic. At least GM made a product that worked most of the time, Goldman’s products are truly toxic

    1. Tough choice there. Apples and oranges in my opinion. Goldman’s products are toxic in that they’re not worth what Goldman says they are. They’re worth something, just not what would make Goldman happy.

      GM just produces a product no one wants… at any price.

  12. If Saturn was “a dead division walking” in 2000, how (or when)did the brand showed every sign of becoming competitive? If before 2000, that doesn’t seem particularly relevant, but it’s hard to square the notion of a competitive brand with a dead division. What are the signs you were seeing, Tim Cavanaugh?

  13. Product-wise, Saturn was dead from the start. I remember before the roll-out, walking out of the Saturn building into the parking lot and saying, “Who left that Sport Coupe out where anybody can see it?” On closer examination, it was a Geo Storm. Since they were plugging the company as New! Different! I knew right then they were in deep shit.

    They did some good things with customer relations for a while, though. Which GM and the UAW did their best to kill, probably the only time those two ever agreed on anything.

  14. “Everything that gets near it turns into failure.”

    LOL. Too true. My favorite moment right now is the cunt CEO going on tv commercials saying “we are putting our money where are mouths are”.

    BULLSHIT. You are putting MY money where your cunt-hole of a mouth is.

  15. Saturn was hamstrung by something not mentioned here: It was for girls.

    Just so. My wife had one.

  16. “cunt-hole of a mouth” – ha ha ha!

    Buy foreign!

  17. You know it’s funny, the Jeep Liberty was one of the largest selling SUV’s in its class. Chrysler seemed bugged in that it seemed to appeal to women. For the record, I drive one and love the hell out of it. On the trail, it screams “underestimate me!”

    Anyhoo, the ’08 liberty was redesigned to appeal more to men. It now looks like every other Jeep in the lineup (at a glance, who can tell the difference between a Liberty, Commander or Patriot?) I believe Liberty sales have dropped off like a rock.

  18. Satuen got of light, Roger Penske would of asset stripped it and drained any money from it he could of. His usual M.O…. buy it, keep the profitable bit and to hell with anyone who works in the none profit part…… Roger Penske is a Corporate Vampire.

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