This afternoon the Penske Automotive Group announced that its bid to acquire the Saturn brand had fallen through. As a result, General Motors will be discontinuing the brand.
This is sad news. At one time Saturn was a wonderful brand. General Motors created Saturn in 1990 in a bold effort to compete with the imports. Saturn was a breath of fresh air in the auto industry. The dealers provided excellent service and there was no unpleasant haggling. The cars were small, practical and affordable. The labor force was a partnership between management and labor. The marketing message was emotional, not technical.
And for a while it all worked. Sales soared and, perhaps more importantly, Saturn became a unique brand. People felt a connection to Saturn; it wasn’t just another General Motors car brand, it was special and unique. Saturn owners went to reunion events at the factory. They were part of a family, part of the brand.
As the years went by, however, General Motors neglected the brand. Saturn, starved for investment, gradually eroded. As GM’s financial troubles mounted it became very clear that Saturn had no future with the company; GM had to focus on a few big brands.
For a while it appeared that Saturn would survive; earlier this year the Penske Automotive Group offered to buy Saturn. Penske would outsource manufacturing and just focus on marketing and sales. This was a bold move and a hopeful one for Saturn.
But today Penske announced that it couldn’t secure manufacturing capacity and couldn’t complete the purchase.
This is a sad day for anyone who appreciates brands. One of the special ones is going away.