Synopsis: Saturn division of GM to close
Although planned since the early 1980s, “a different kind of car company” did not ship its first vehicles until the 1990 model year. Saturn used its own platform, the vehicles were covered in dent resistant plastic panels and they used distinctive engines. Saturn did not emphasize their connection to GM. The dealerships used a fixed-price model. This aspect alone drove many buyers to this new American car company.
Although the cars were not in any way outstanding, they developed a passionate fan base. On the occasion of the marque’s fifth anniversary the Saturn Homecoming was held on the grounds of their only manufacturing facility in Spring Hill, TN. Saturn invited the owner of every vehicle registered in North America to the gathering. Saturn estimated an attendance of forty thousand, most driving; the long-distance prize was awarded to the owners of the only Saturn in Alaska at that time.
Saturn sold vehicles in the United States, Canada, Taiwan and in Japan from 1997-2003. In contrast to typical practice for General Motors, the Saturns for Japan were right-hand drive.
Media criticism of the Saturn centered around the idea this car could very well have been sold as a existing GM brand. Indeed, Saturn buyers generally considered Chevrolet and the higher priced Oldsmobile before their purchases.
The original model, in three body styles, continued until 2002. This was the final model year for the Oldsmobile brand. The Saturn fleet was supplemented with typical GM rebadged models. The take-it-or-leave-it price policy was canceled in 2004. Saturn had no particular reason to exist outside the tiny, but fiercely loyal, fan base. For the 2008 model year, the Opel Astra was imported as a Saturn. Despite excellent reviews the car sold very poorly. It continued until 2009, the final year for the entire marque.
During the financial crisis commencing in 2008, Penske Automotive entered talks with GM to purchase the brand and distribution network. Although primarily an auto reseller of many makes, Penske is the importer of the Smart which has proved a success despite fiscal uncertainty. Penske entered talks with Renault-Samsung Motors of Korea to import their vehicles based upon Renault designs, with allegedly higher build quality, as Saturns. The board of Renault ultimately refused the offer. Penske was left without vehicles to sell under the brand and ended talks with GM 30 September 2009.
Concurrent with the announcement that talks with Penske ended, General Motors Company announced the end of the Saturn. Like Pontiac, Saturn will not enter the 2010 model year.
Spring Hill Manufacturing ceased production of Saturn vehicles in 2004. Presently the plant is one of two facilities producing Lambda chassis vehicles such as the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia. It is not expected to re-open following the Thanksgiving holiday.