What Should GM/Penske's Saturn Do?

When the government-controlled General Motors Corporation (GM) sold its automotive brand, Saturn, to race car businessman Roger Penske’s Penske Automotive Group, GM’s press release stated that the transaction would save more than 13,000 jobs and, in effect, save Saturn from the ill fate of, say, Pontiac, which GM dumped after the Obama administration nationalized GM.

But what does the government’s proposed Saturn/Penske arrangement really mean for Saturn car owners, drivers and car customers? No one knows yet. But Detroit Free-Press car columnist Mark Phelan’s readers made plenty of suggestions in today’s edition.

First, off, if the government’s plan is completed, more than 350 Saturn dealerships supposedly will stay open. In that case, according to GM, Penske gains both Saturn’s rights and its assets, while government-run GM continues its contracted production of Saturn’s Aura, Vue and Outlook.

For his part, Penske Automotive Group Chairman Roger Penske said of the deal: “Saturn has a passionate customer base and outstanding dealer network. For nearly 20 years Saturn has focused on treating the customer right. We share that philosophy, and we want to build on those strengths.”

Detroit newspaper columnist Phelan’s readers have ideas, too. Among their tips for the GM/Penske Saturn: hire Honda, which uses several platforms and multiple models on the same assembly lines, to make Saturn cars. The reader figures that Honda could manufacture Saturn’s cars within a couple of years, which could boost the car concern’s success.

One reader urges Saturn to keep the no-haggling policy and another advises Saturn to stop making Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and stick to smaller, economy cars, sportier cars and vehicles that put ecological needs above the needs of human beings. Another reader writes: "Saturn should [use] a mix of alternative fuels, hybrids, hydrogen fuel, clean diesel engines, and solar roof panels."

GM established Saturn in 1990. The company has sold more than four million vehicles, most of them reliable, judging by customer surveys (Saturn ranks high among non-luxury brands in satisfaction). The Penske deal—which must be approved by the government—is scheduled to close in the third quarter of this year.

[Sources: General Motors, Saturn, Mark Phelan/Detroit Free-Press]

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