The Saturn Corporation, better known as simply Saturn, was an auto manufacturer and a division of General Motors from 1985 until 2010 when GM killed it. The company was known for it’s “unique” styling of vehicles that made it so popular and even marketed itself as a “different kind of car company”.
The rise of Saturn actually starts in 1982 when a GM executive, Alex Mair, began brainstorming a “revolutionary new small car” project which was dubbed “Saturn”. This also coincided with GM launching the new J platform which would become their new compact car platform up until 2005. By 1984, General Motors launched their first Saturn concept car which was also simply dubbed the “Saturn Concept Car”. Keep in mind, General Motors had no intention of actually creating a new brand, the Saturn small car project was supposed to be a vehicle that would be sold under the existing brands such as Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Buick.
But in 1985, GM leadership changed their minds and figured the Saturn Concept Car should just become its own brand, Saturn. Interestingly enough, by the time it came to registering Saturn as a corporation and business, GM choose a different approach. Saturn would originally be founded as a private, employee-owned company with the ownership being now-retired GM leadership.
The first Saturn, a red 1991 model-year Saturn SL2, was created on July 30, 1990. Memphis, Tennessee, saw the opening of the first Saturn dealership. The brand would push a “no haggle” pricing strategy for its dealership network which brought in a lot of publicity. Although later models shared platforms with other GM vehicles to be more competitively priced on the market, Saturn Corporation was founded as a “new sort of automotive company,” and it even had its own dealership network that was distinct from the rest of GM.
Originally there was a lot of doubt for the Saturn brand as many believed the project was too ambitious to be its own new car brand. However, Saturn took off from the start and proved to be quite popular with buyers. Even with the early 1990s recession, Saturn was selling a lot of cars as a brand-new player. However, there were some warning signs for GM as early statistics showed that 41 percent of Saturn customers were ones that actually already owned a GM vehicle. None the less, GM carried on with Saturn and in 1996 even launched an electric vehicle under the Saturn brand which was the GM EV1.
By the late 90s, Saturn was doing very well in the North American markets and GM decided to push the brand into Asian markets as well, launching Saturn in Japan. However, things began to slow down in the early 2000s even as Saturn launched their first compact crossover SUV, known as the VUE. Unfortunately for Saturn, they were simply rebadging existing GM vehicles as their own and in turn largely deviating from their own philosophy of being a “different kind of car company”. As a result of declining sales, conflict started to grow between Saturn leadership and GM leadership. This pushed GM to dissolve their unique labor contract for the Saturn manufacturing plant and integrated the brand into GM completely. It is believed this was the start of the end for Saturn.
In 2008, General Motors was running into financially troubles and questions were being asked about the multiple brands under the GM umbrella that essentially produced the exact same vehicles. After a US congressional hearing, General Motors was forced to close and consolidate several brands such as Pontiac, Hummer, SAAB, Oldsmobile and Saturn.
In 2009, General Motors attempted to sell off the Saturn brand to Penske Automotive Group. The plan was. To have General Motors still manufacturer Saturn vehicles but Penske would take care of distribution essentially. However, in order to get bailout funding from the government, General Motors was forced to move on closing down Saturn. Once GM closed down all of the Saturn dealerships in Canada, and some in the US, Penske backed out of the purchase. As a result, GM announced that by 2010 the Saturn brand would be discontinued and shutdown along with all of their dealerships.
To this day, there is still a strong Saturn following with many trying to treat them as classics. Although, there isn’t any Saturn model that is considered, or will probably ever be considered a collectible there are some Saturn collections out in the world.
Now you know.