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Old 04-21-2009, 11:13 AM   #1
mhoward1
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Default Saturn was Supposed To Save GM, instead they crushed it.

here's the start:
Quote:
It's hard to remember a time when the top man at GM was the most celebrated industrialist in America, maybe even the world. But that was the case on Jan. 8, 1985, when Roger B. Smith convened a press conference in Detroit to make what he billed a "historic announcement."

Smith was a man given to grand gestures. The pink-cheeked, squeaky-voiced executive, once branded the "cherubic chairman" by BusinessWeek, who had taken the helm in 1981, had already ordered a sweeping reorganization of GM's unwieldy structure. He'd also made bold investments in robotics, space satellites and data processing—buying whole companies, like Ross Perot's Electronic Data Systems, and Hughes Aircraft Co., instead of merely contracting for their services.



But on this wintry day in Detroit, Smith would make his biggest gamble yet: unveiling the Saturn, GM's first new brand in 70 years. More than just a car, it would be a stand-alone subsidiary—using innovative technology by workers and managers engaged in unprecedented joint decision making. "Saturn is the key to GM's long-term competitiveness, survival and success," Smith said. Its mission: "to develop and produce an American-made small car that will be fully competitive with the best of the imports … [and] affirm that American ingenuity, American technology and American productivity can once again be the model and the inspiration for the rest of the world."

Twenty-four years later, Smith has passed away, and his dream is in shambles. GM is fighting for its life; its CEO, Rick Wagoner, was ousted by the federal government as part of a bailout effort that may yet involve bankruptcy and billions more in taxpayer dollars. The Obama administration is contemplating splitting GM in two, dividing the "good" from the "bad"—a plan that, if adopted, would essentially treat Saturn as a toxic asset to be sold off like so much subprime mortgage debt. GM has 60 days to submit a new plan to the White House, but its first one called for Saturn to be phased out by 2011, unless a "Hail Mary" play by its dealers to buy the brand succeeds, or a better alternative can be found. (A GM spokesman said: "We're selling the cars we have and waiting to see what the franchise-operations team can come up with.") The plant in Spring Hill, once a place where giddy owners traveled from all over to meet the folks who made their beloved cars, no longer produces Saturns, cranking out Chevys instead on the days when it is on line at all.
full article:
http://www.newsweek.com/id/192458
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:36 AM   #2
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What I'd like to know is who said that Saturn was supposed to save GM..? I don't recall GM ever mentioning this
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:38 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by BigElm View Post
What I'd like to know is who said that Saturn was supposed to save GM..? I don't recall GM ever mentioning this
Smith said it himself:

Quote:
"Saturn is the key to GM's long-term competitiveness, survival and success," Smith said. Its mission: "to develop and produce an American-made small car that will be fully competitive with the best of the imports … [and] affirm that American ingenuity, American technology and American productivity can once again be the model and the inspiration for the rest of the world."
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:39 AM   #4
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saturn was supposed to be a cheap brand with dent resistant (plastic) panels, but then it turned into another cousin brand of GM, where they took the same design, applied a different brand and sent it out.

I liked the Saturn Sky though.
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:41 AM   #5
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It was supposed to be their import fighter when it was launched, but after a year or so they cheaped out and turned it into a niche brand with nothing going for it other than a selling strategy. It's a pretty common result for US car companies; start full of big plans then scale back to the mediocre in pursuit of immediate profit. Chevy Cavalier, anyone? How about a Lincoln LS? The Contour and Focus in the US are great examples; they both had plenty of promise and Ford gave up on both cars in the US, discontinuing one and letting the other atrophy. I could say the same about the Fiesta's fate in the US as well; the longer they take to release it here the more it's going to end up just like the Focus. Years late, then abandoned to a long and dull production life.
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:47 AM   #6
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Smith wanted to remake GM in Saturn's mold, but the opposite happened. "This is a real tragedy," says Prof. Saul Rubinstein of the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, who coauthored a book on Saturn. The lesson for GM and its American rivals now struggling to stay in business, he says, is that when they launch daring innovations, they need the will and a way to ensure that those ideas don't get drowned by the corporate mainstream.
Pretty much says it all.
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:48 AM   #7
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Hmm, well duh. How does spending MILLIONS building a new brand, dealer networks etc going to save you money when you have other brands desperate for added brand awareness. IE buick, GMC...
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:54 AM   #8
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The problem with Saturn is that they did a 1/2-ass job, which is the same problem with the rest of GM.

The idea was great - create a semi autonomous division within GM and let them try to compete with the Japanese head-on. The problem is that while the initial models were greeted with pretty damn good reviews, like everything that GM touched back then, they screwed it up by not updating their models for many, many years. It got to the point that all the built-up "goodwill" that Saturn had was wasted. People so loved their Saturns that people were willing to travel to the company picnic held at the factory where the cars were built. Other companies would kill for that kind of enthusiasm and loyalty.


Saturn was supposed to be the model for how to run a US car company for the rest of GM, but instead of spreading that knowledge to Chevy and Olds and Buick, the opposite happened, and Saturn got infected by the mediocrity that was the rest of GM.
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Old 04-21-2009, 11:57 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mh_WRX View Post
Smith said it himself:
Yep, I read that... but did he initially come up with this as a proposal for GM's capture or did he piggyback from someone else?
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Old 04-21-2009, 12:03 PM   #10
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GEO could have saved GM. The Metro got 60mpg with its tiny 3 banger Metro.
They killed that off.
GM is DEAD
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Old 04-21-2009, 12:27 PM   #11
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Saturn was created as a separate company with it's own operations. I am unsure when, but to save money (Had to be during the Lopez years) Saturn was reorganized to become a division of GM just like the rest. That is when it started getting full badge engineering and the beginning of the end.

I work with a guy that still loves Saturns, says the dealer has always treated him great.

Saturn maybe the only thing Smith did that was worth while.

Peace,

Greg

Last edited by b4wantab; 04-21-2009 at 12:28 PM. Reason: grammer > me
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Old 04-21-2009, 12:38 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hazdaz View Post
The problem with Saturn is that they did a 1/2-ass job, which is the same problem with the rest of GM.

The idea was great - create a semi autonomous division within GM and let them try to compete with the Japanese head-on. The problem is that while the initial models were greeted with pretty damn good reviews, like everything that GM touched back then, they screwed it up by not updating their models for many, many years. It got to the point that all the built-up "goodwill" that Saturn had was wasted. People so loved their Saturns that people were willing to travel to the company picnic held at the factory where the cars were built. Other companies would kill for that kind of enthusiasm and loyalty.


Saturn was supposed to be the model for how to run a US car company for the rest of GM, but instead of spreading that knowledge to Chevy and Olds and Buick, the opposite happened, and Saturn got infected by the mediocrity that was the rest of GM.
Basically, Saturn had the potential to have a Subaru level of loyalty. Good ol' GM bigwigs screwed that up though.
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Old 04-21-2009, 12:46 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Hazdaz View Post

Saturn was supposed to be the model for how to run a US car company for the rest of GM, but instead of spreading that knowledge to Chevy and Olds and Buick, the opposite happened, and Saturn got infected by the mediocrity that was the rest of GM.
This follows a typical social patterns of the day. Put two kids in a room, one smart and the other dumb. Eventually, the smart kid will become more and more unintelligent, and the dumb kid will remain unchanged. People always sink to the lowest level allowed. We see it in everything. Call it peer pressure, mob mentality, no child left behind, whatever.
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Old 04-21-2009, 01:04 PM   #14
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see idk if saturn hasnt turned a profit lately but some of their cars dont look too bad right now that lil hatch seems like it could be interesting and i thought the astra was like North American car of the year or something for 2007 or 2008 the vue has ballooned to lambda chassis size which doesnt make any sense to me but their cars have looked actually sellable for a reason other than cheapness
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Old 04-21-2009, 01:12 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BigElm View Post
Yep, I read that... but did he initially come up with this as a proposal for GM's capture or did he piggyback from someone else?
I'm pretty sure Saturn was Smith's baby; it was a big deal back in the 80s. When my Mom was working for SAE I remember a lot hope for the direction Saturn was supposed to go, and this was within the industry, albeit just a different aspect of PR aimed at the industry rather than consumers.
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Old 04-21-2009, 01:56 PM   #16
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I wasn't very familiar with the history of Saturn. That was a very interesting read.

It seems like while Smith and the UAW head guy at that time shared the vision that became Saturn, no one else in either management or labor saw it the same way. And that pretty much meant that it was bound for failure, as both these guys had to step down at some point.

It's VERY difficult to imagine a reliable system that would inject some far-sightedness to the board room in modern corporations. The most recent success story in auto industry, Hyundai, has been basically run by a family like a medieval clan. Sounds stupid, but if the head guy has the right idea, it can be very effective too.
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Old 04-21-2009, 01:57 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by bheinen74 View Post
GEO could have saved GM. The Metro got 60mpg with its tiny 3 banger Metro.
They killed that off.
GM is DEAD
Geo helped Toyota. The paint technology advancement that Toyota got out of that partnership was a big boost to the organization, I am sure there were other things that GM provided Toyota that strengthened the competition as well.

We'll have to wait and see if GM makes the same mistake with its Chinese partners.

I agree that Saturn was a good idea that got mismanaged. A lot of the funds that were initially earmarked for Saturn went into trying to save Oldsmobile. Remember the Aurora?
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Old 04-21-2009, 02:02 PM   #18
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So, they are going to kill off a brand when it finally started getting good?

I've never seen so many Saturn's in my lift until the last 3 years.
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Old 04-21-2009, 06:02 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Hazdaz View Post
The problem with Saturn is that they did a 1/2-ass job, which is the same problem with the rest of GM.

The idea was great - create a semi autonomous division within GM and let them try to compete with the Japanese head-on. The problem is that while the initial models were greeted with pretty damn good reviews, like everything that GM touched back then, they screwed it up by not updating their models for many, many years. It got to the point that all the built-up "goodwill" that Saturn had was wasted. People so loved their Saturns that people were willing to travel to the company picnic held at the factory where the cars were built. Other companies would kill for that kind of enthusiasm and loyalty.
Yep. My two friends were two early Saturn adopters and pretty hardcore about their vehicles. But after GM ignored the brand for YEARS with craptacular updates even they moved on - Honda and Lexus respectively - when it was time for them to update. Plastic gimmick aside, they had a large, devoted, and loyal following which is/was amazing for a new brand.

All good things come to an end I guess.
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Old 04-24-2009, 11:45 AM   #20
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As a Saturn owner for the last 6.5 years, I have to say they did an awesome job with the cars and filling the market niche. There were no 'dealer tricks' with the financing of the vehicle. The price you saw was the price you paid. I have an 02 SL w/ 100k miles. It gets 37-42 mpg, even w/ the SOHC, it's fun to drive. The plastic panels are awesome for their lack of dents & dings. Only things I've had to replace are the belt, wheel bearing, brake pads & rotors, & an IM gasket. Shame they are disappearing, but I considered Saturn dead after they swapped to the 2.2L & away from the plastic body panels.
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