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The Agony of the Saturn Crowd

I speak of my Saturn love affair in my column today. This old commercial perfectly captures the special bond Saturn owners once had with the company -- and why we are sad that GM is cutting the brand loose.

By E.J. Dionne  | February 19, 2009; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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It is not surprising that EJ would consider the possibility of a "Saturn crowd." What is difficult is to see how it matters.

Posted by: gary4books | February 19, 2009 5:26 AM | Report abuse

I recall that commercial, possibly one of the most striking car ads ever (OK, Volkwagen's car-in-a-tree and "Pink Moon" were far more sophisticated).

The Nissan Xterra SUV, when first introduced, developed a fan base. Basically, it was more or less affordable, a decent (if thirsty) everyday vehicle, and an encouragement to visiting unpaved roads on weekends. And yes, Nissan was smart enough to use owners' photos in its brochures.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 19, 2009 6:29 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Dionne's sentiments are admirable - but the reality is that Detroit and the UAW have been smoking mind-altering substances for far too long. Better for the companies to face reality and file for bankruptcy, if that be the best course, rather than continue to stiff the taxpayers for the arrogance and stupidity of their past actions. As went the steel industry and the demands of their unions, the railroads, and their own unions, so too goes Detroit. And sadly, so goes America.

Posted by: txoh | February 19, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Sorry to hear that you no longer have a Saturn.

You could have bought an Aura which is on the same base as the Malibu. It was picked as car of the year in 2007.

Posted by: stewartfrank | February 19, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Dionne,

I appreciate your affection for your Saturn, but Saturn was NEVER a good car company. Why? It never made any money. Some dealers made money, but as a stand alone franchise it has been a loser. To try to establish the brand GM priced the original Saturns about $1500. below market. Yes, they lost money on everyone. It hasn't been practical for a Detroit 3 manufacturer to build small low mark up vehicles in the U. S., probably because of those wonderful union wages you would like to preserve. It seems the UAW would prefer to protect a few senior jobs rather than to keep many employed making less money. That seems to be the seniority system around which unions are built.

What has real value with the Saturn franchise is the franchise system where the same ownership owns all of the Saturn stores in a regional market. In this Internet day and age, where buyers have as much information as they do, their franchise model may be the only one that works, and its already in place. Consumers are now in a position to force dealers to bid on a single unit vehicle purchase just as a fleet might do for a large unit purchase. This is not a recipe for profitability. Being able to control one's pricing in a particular region gives the dealer back an advantage. Franchises are granted "Saturn style" in Japan, which has enabled dealers to somewhat hold margins.

Posted by: ruggles1 | February 19, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Sentiment makes for lousy business decisions. Overpaid workers and executives have run their companies into the ground and they shouldn't be bailed out. High oil prices were predictable (what natural resource is infinite?), the economic downturn is a regular feature of business cycles and these guys spent decades destroying a once proud, strong American industry.
I'm glad you loved your car, EJ..... don't expect me to pay for your love.
As for your kindergarten economic theories.... providing pricey life support for companies that are completely insolvent only prolongs the pain and expense of their assured deaths. Bankruptcy will quickly restructure them into something better, smaller and more relevant.
When you're raking in big bucks as a media celebrity it's easy to promote spending money to save your own little fantasy world. But the rest of us would rather support our families, tyvm. My tax dollars are NOT for the benefit of your sentiments.

Posted by: Dive4Blood | February 19, 2009 11:39 PM | Report abuse

"U. S., probably because of those wonderful union wages you would like to preserve."
Yeah, I'd much rather have the Japanese dictate how much an American auto worker can make, while were at it let's try that out in other business enterprises, who did you say you work for?

Posted by: JRM2 | February 20, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Saturn had a slightly different business model in the '90s, and its "no haggling" prices and fiberglass body panels were innovative.

Whether or not, the Saturn division ever made money for GM--or was a victim of creative accounting--I don't know. But when its "independent" management was brought under the GM umbrella, its fate was sealed because it became "the sixth man" on the basketball team.

Nonetheless, I can't believe that another small carmaker might not be interested in buying the Saturn plant and car designs. The dealbreaker might be the dealers themselves. But a new marque on the hood and new non-GM marketing could mean survival for the brand.

Posted by: bulldog6 | February 21, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I don't recall Saturn ever being rated as an especially good car. It's only difference was no bargaining and quite obviously not all that many people were so enthusiastic about that. It's another GM mistake, perhaps not the worst, but one of many. After all, they could have built a Toyota!

Posted by: bezvodka | February 21, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

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