Saturn will leave GM’s orbit and then probably fizzle-out

In these uncertain times, there are still those things that can be predicted with 100-percent certainty. One of those is that Saturn will be spinning out of GM’s orbit in the near future.

GM has admitted they want to either “wind down” or sell Saturn. Rumors have been swirling about a deal to sell Saturn to an ownership group led by Black Oak Partners, LLC. We don’t know much at all about Black Oak Partners, but our opinion is that it might as well be the Oak Ridge Boys, because Saturn has little chance of survival on its own.

There was a time and place when a stand-alone Saturn made sense. That time was about 1993 or 1994 when Saturn’s products were unique, and the buzz about the company was that it made great import-fighters.

GM management’s ego, greed, shortsightedness, and general strategic-ADD quickly made Saturn irrelevant. The new company with new products morphed into a young company with a stale product line. Almost fifteen years passed before the division actually received some decent products again. Unfortunately, the products Saturn received were all badge-engineered with other GM products.

So it begs the obvious question: why would anyone – Black Oak Ridge Boys Partners Blues Brothers Band or any of the other rumored “multiple suitors” want to buy a company that only produces products that are nearly identical to other products on the market? Even if Saturn’s offerings are in many ways better than its current platform- mates, that’s still a huge problem. Furthermore, with ultra-high CAFE standards staring manufacturers in the face, an independent Saturn would need some serious deep pockets for R+D.

It’s sad…the Sky roadster could have been a legend. It was prettier than the Solstice and a better size than competition like the Miata. Like all GM vehicles, it needed another generation to work out the cost-induced quality (meaning not-engineered-out) glitches. Similarly, the Aura could have evolved into a great Accord/Camry killer, instead of just an “alternative”.

And imagine had GM been more Johnny-on-the-spot and brought the Volt technology out quicker and put Saturn as the cutting-edge hybrid leader. Instead, if anyone buys Saturn, they’ll need to license the Volt technology from GM, rather than possibly buying the Saturn Volt technology and licensing it back to GM. (Yes, we know GM would have never let it happen, but as they say – “if the price was right!”)

Instead we’ll probably see Black Oak Partners or a bunch of dealers buy Saturn. And just like all the times it happened in the past (remember when Avanti was bought from Studebaker?) the company will quickly fall from relevance, but slowly fizzle out of existence.

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3 Responses to Saturn will leave GM’s orbit and then probably fizzle-out

  1. Dean Stevenson says:

    I believe you are correct but I don’t buy the statement “It’s sad…the Sky roadster could have been a legend. It was prettier than the Solstice and a better size than competition like the Miata.”

    The Sky was a badge engineered Solstice and while some may believe it looks better, both the Solstice and the Sky were doomed for three reasons, a lack of trunk space, an awkward top mechanism, and abysmal reliability. Both were arguably better looking than the Miata, a notion I myself subscribe to. However, the GM twins never posed a long term threat to the Miata’s reign because of the aforementioned 3 issues. Not sure what you mean concerning size since the Sky is only a few inches wider and longer than the Miata, but it’s a moot point. The Sky, and Saturn, probably won’t be around much longer.

  2. Dean,

    The Sky and Solstice were never doomed for the reasons you specify, but rather that the company didn’t take steps to deal with both perceptions and realities.

    You mention the lack of trunk space, but the Solstice actually has a statistically larger trunk than the Miata. It’s by 1/10th of a cubic foot, but it is “larger”.

    The awkward top mechanism is only trouble if a) it is too hard to operate and b) it doesn’t work to keep the top secure. Just being different is okay, but in the Sky it could have been better. Tops are easy to modify, and could have been done in one year.

    As for reliability, you are right — it has been abysmal. This, however, could have been improved had the company wanted to do so. Two years of bad reliability doesn’t kill a model.

    My comment about size was more in terms of interior volume. As an owner of two first gen Miatas, I can speak to the tightness of the interior…the Sky and Solstice offer much more room for the taller and broader, although at 6’4″ none are particularly good fits.

  3. That was my call, too:
    http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2009/01/08/nine-for-2009-predicting-the-year-ahead/

    Of course, there continues to be a huge Saturn rumormill. But GM does have an Order Book for the 2010 Aura/Aura Hybrid, but none for any Hummer, Saab…or GMC.

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