Lajdziak: Sale of Saturn "Not in the Cards"

You've undoubtedly heard the news or read the rumors: General Motors is in trouble. Gas prices are at an all-time high and the company's stock price is hovering around a 50-year low. The news has led to all sorts of speculation about what's in store for the company's future.

SaturnFans.com has been following the story for the past two weeks, when rumors first began to surface about future Saturn products being put on hold. These inevitably led to talk about General Motors having secret plans to shut down or sell the division, along with Hummer, GMC, Saab, Pontiac, or maybe even Buick. The situation had been percolating in automotive blogs and forums for about a week-and-a-half before the Wall Street Journal published a story Monday that seemingly confirmed the "news" that Saturn's days were numbered.

I've stood by on the sidelines and watched this story develop without posting a SaturnFans.com news report, because the details were sketchy and the news was particularly viscous and based on unnamed sources. It was difficult to tell where the "real" news stopped and where the rumors and speculation began. I hesitated to perpetuate a story that could potentially cause even more confusion, because I was already seeing the damage it could cause in the form of numerous emails from SaturnFans.com visitors asking for the scoop as to what was going on. Was there reason to panic? It bothered me to see these types of rumors perpetuate to the point where owners and car shoppers became concerned enough to ask questions about Saturn's future.

Understandably, General Motors has a strict policy about discussing future products or plans, no matter how good, bad, or indifferent the "news" circulating in the media. Employees are forbidden from commenting on reports. That all changed, though, after the aforementioned WSJ article hit the streets and caused alarm among the company's dealers.

"GM Weighs More Layoffs, Sale of Brands; Worries Over Cash, Plunging Share Price Prompt Strategy Shift; Saturn Gets Scrutiny," read the title of the article. The story painted a grim picture for General Motors as a corporation, and also cited unnamed sources who told the paper that "all but Cadillac and Chevrolet, which GM considers core to its business, are undergoing close scrutiny." The article was particularly hard on Saturn, leading a number industry analysts, news organizations, blogs, and forums to proclaim that Saturn was finished.

Not so fast, says General Motors. In response to the article yesterday, GM spokesman Tony Cervone told Automotive News in an email that "no other GM brand (besides Humer) is under strategic review." The same message was published later on on Bloomberg's website. By Monday afternoon, Saturn general manager, Jill Lajdziak, was even more specific when she responded to questions at a Habitat for Humanity charity event in Detroit. The sale of Saturn was "not in the cards," the Associated Press quoted her telling reporters.

Mark LaNeve, GM vice president of sales, service, and marketing also came to the defense of Saturn in a letter he sent to Saturn retailers and GM dealers last night. The WSJ published a copy of the letter earlier today. Here's an excerpt of the letter that pertained to Saturn.

The more serious speculation in the article concerns the number of GM brands and specifically cites Saturn as being "under examination." Here are the facts. We have invested heavily to give Saturn one of the best and freshest lineups in the industry. Despite dropping the Ion, sales of the Aura, Vue, Outlook and Astra continue to improve. It is true that we constantly review our plan for improving volume and profitability for Saturn and all our brands. This happens literally every day throughout the year. We engage you, our dealers, in this process of improving our business via countless dealer council meetings, regional discussions and other communication forums. That is the extent of the "examination" that is going on at this time, for Saturn or any other GM brand. There is no breaking news here either.Back on June 3 we announced that we would be conducting a strategic review of the Hummer brand. At that time, in numerous interviews since and as recently as last Tuesday on our June sales call, I have been asked by media if other brands were undergoing a similar "strategic review." My answer then and now was the same - "no!" Similar to the Hummer situation we would communicate with you, our dealers, very early in the process if this was the case. We also have pledged to conclude the Hummer review as quickly as possible and have retained Citibank to assist us in that effort. In the meantime, stay focused on the business. We closed June strong and outperformed Ford, Chrysler and Toyota on a year-over-year basis. Saturn, in particular, turned in one of the best performances in the industry, up 9 percent retail. Our trucks remain the best selling, most fuel efficient in the industry and we are gaining ground every month in passenger cars and crossovers. In this challenging period that our industry is going through, there is bound to be lots of media coverage, speculation and rumors. The best way to combat is through strong sales performance and a focus on our customers. Don't let it distract you or take you off your game.

So there you have it. I'm going to continue to watch how this plays out, and will report back when any new news becomes available. Understand that both Saturn and GM will continue to evolve in the face of a changing marketplace, struggling economy, and heightened competition. They have to adapt in order to survive. I believe in the Saturn brand, and think it's critically-acclaimed, European-bred lineup of compelling, fuel-efficient vehicles will draw crowds as more and more folks learn about the division's revitalization. The money GM has invested in Saturn has resulted in one of the best vehicle lineups in the business. Sales will continue to grow as the brand's message gets out, and I think ultimately Saturn will prove itself to be a pillar of strength for General Motors.

Source: Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Automotive News

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