The Saturn brand came out of General Motors' attempt to reclaim the market share that was lost to Japanese imports in the 1980s. In 1982, Alex C. Mair devised the new revolutionary concept that he called Saturn. The brand launched as a "different kind of car company," one that would distinguish itself from the competition with its smaller, inexpensive cars along with a friendly atmosphere and no-haggle pricing structure.
In 1983, General Motors Chairman Roger B. Smith and President F. James McDonald went public with Saturn in hopes of igniting new excitement to the GM brand and providing a viable competitor to Japanese imports. By 1984, the company unveiled the Saturn demonstration vehicle. One year later, plans were in motion to launch its first vehicle in the early 1990s.
The Saturn brand was set to operate independently from GM. It created unique automobile models and a different company culture than what the industry had previously witnessed. In 1985, Saturn became an official GM subsidiary, and it acquired its first assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. Three years later, the plant was completed and within two years, 3,000 workers were hired with dealers appointed. In July of 1990, the first Saturn was manufactured and driven by Smith and United Auto Workers President Owen Bieber.
Saturn Through The Years
Though many predicted success for Saturn, others were less than enthusiastic about GM's new thrust. The Wall Street Journal called the project "too ambitious" because "everything at Saturn is new: the car, the plant, the workforce, the dealer network and the manufacturing process. Not even Toyota, everyone's candidate for the world's best automaker tackles more than two new items on any single project."
Even though Saturns were popular in the 1990s, the projected sales failed to meet expectations. The recession contributed to faltering sales as well as Saturn's prices, which were considerably higher than the vehicles being made in the U.S.-based Japanese factories.
Despite a rocky start, Saturn persisted in its "no haggle" pricing message and launched its first models as part of the S-Series. Buyers were familiar with Saturn's unique approach, which led to a few years of expansion. In its first 10 years, Saturn produced one new redesign, and although it did experience some growth, it did not manufacture any new automobile series. By 2000, Saturn had manufactured 2 million vehicles, launched the L-Series, and entered the Japanese market.
The turn of the century proved to be a downward slope for Saturn. Disappointing sales figures and a lack of new products sent the brand into a tailspin. Throughout the first nine years of the 21st century, Saturn attempted to boost product quality and manufacture more vehicles. Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort, the brand collapsed in 2009.
In 1991, the Saturn S-Series was born and lived to see three different models: coupe (SC), sedan (SL), and wagon (SW). The first generation S-Series vehicles were manufactured until 1994. The next generation of vehicles included first generation exteriors with second generation interiors. The automobiles looked like the original S-Series on the outside but were housed with interior changes such as larger gauge faces and new consoles. Other than the few interior changes, the second generation S-Series was virtually identical to its predecessor. In 1997, sport coupe models changed to a scooped headlight front.
Saturn L-Series vehicles that only lasted from 2000-2005. The L-Series cars were strategically manufactured to recover lost sales and revive the faltering brand. During this period, Saturn also launched other vehicles: the Vue, an SUV; and the Relay, a minivan. The Ion also made an appearance and was touted as a viable replacement for the S-Series. Saturn entered the hybrid market with its Vue Green Line. Some other models included the Aura sedan, Outlook crossover and the Astra hatchback. Many of these vehicles were manufactured as Saturn's last attempt to succeed in 2009, but the brand folded that year.
Saturn Products and Technologies
The original Saturn S-Series engines maxed out at only 124 hp, but these cars were fuel efficient at 40 mpg for manual transmissions.
The original Saturns were constructed of the Z-body platform, housed the Saturn 1.9-liter inline-4 engine, and showcased dent-resistant body panels that made redesign simple, even though the brand did not capitalize on this benefit.
Saturn's products also included two categories of vehicles: Red Line, which was oriented toward higher performance; and Green Line, the environmentally-friendly vehicle featuring mild-hybrid technology.
Though Saturn boldly strived to meet the desires of the consumers while competing with imports, the brand could not sustain profitability. GM was initially slated to sell the brand to the Penske Corporation, but the deal fell through and the end was inevitable.