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Old 05-11-2004, 02:36 PM   #1
k-dee
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May_8, 2004. 01:00_AM


Kill Saturn, not Olds
GM's oldest brand had stature, while successor has lost focus and sales

GERRY MALLOY

On Thursday, April 29, a cherry red Alero sedan rolled off the General Motors assembly line in Lansing, Mich.

It was the last Oldsmobile.

Almost 107 years after Ransom E. Olds built his first automobile, after more than 35-million Oldsmobiles had been assembled, an era had ended.

With a terse announcement in December, 2000, GM decreed that the Oldsmobile brand would be phased out.

It was a bad decision. GM killed the wrong division.

Declining sales spelled its death knell, even though, less than 20 years before, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was the best-selling car on the market.

The historic auto brand the oldest in North America still sold almost 250,000 cars a year in Canada and the U.S. combined.

Just a year before that announcement, Oldsmobile still outsold GM's much-ballyhooed Saturn division a multi-billion-dollar money sink by about 50,000 vehicles a year.

But Saturn sales were trending up, while Oldsmobile's were falling. Saturn represented the future, the thinking went, while Oldsmobile was a relic of the past albeit a glorious past.

Ransom Olds was successfully mass-marketing his "curved-dash" Oldsmobile, when Henry Ford was still searching for a backer.

Acquired by General Motors, Oldsmobile continued to be a market leader, pioneering such innovations as chrome-plated trim (1925) and the automatic transmission (1940).

The introduction of the Rocket 88 overhead-valve V8 in 1949 confirmed the brand as a technology leader and performance icon.

As the innovation division within GM, Oldsmobile was the first American automaker in the post-war period to introduce an aluminum V8 (1961), turbocharging (1962), and front-wheel drive (1966).

Its hard-earned success began to unravel in the 1980s, when GM's commonization philosophy reached its zenith, leaving nothing of the once fiercely independent division but a marketing organization.

There were no more Oldsmobile engines or engineers and the cars themselves were forgettable, with little to differentiate them from their sister brands with which they shared most components.

The mid-'90s introduction of the highly acclaimed Aurora breathed some new life into the brand, but generally uninspiring cars, combined with a quality gap between domestic and imported brands, fuelled an exodus from GM cars in general.

By the end of the decade, many of those problems had been solved. Oldsmobile was building what many, including me, believe to be the best variations of the corporate shared-platform cars. The Intrigue, for example, was a much better car than the similar Buick Regal or Pontiac Grand Prix.

With the more European-oriented driving dynamics that Oldsmobile incorporated, it was actually building the kind of cars Pontiac was advertising. But it was too little, too late, to save the brand from extinction.

Saturn, meanwhile, was the favoured child. Initiated as an exercise to prove that the world's Number 1 automaker could compete with the import brands, Saturn was set up as a different type of division, independent of the corporate edicts and forced sharing of components and systems.

The brand's low-pressure marketing and focus on customer satisfaction has found success. But despite its clean-sheet freedom, its cars are at best adequate, definitively bland and far behind import competitors.

With a few second-generation exceptions, they were also unattractive a trait that hit its peak with the 2003 facelift of the mid-size L-models. Not surprisingly, sales were so poor that the Wilmington, Del.-built L300 sedan and wagon were quietly discontinued this spring (although the sedan will have a limited run for '05).

Despite the addition of the cute-ute Vue, Saturn sales are on the decline; last year, they were barely more than Oldsmobile's when GM axed it.

The semblance of independence Saturn once enjoyed is long gone. Its products now, and in future plans, are variations on corporate GM platforms, the same as for other divisions the same as it was for Oldsmobile.

We are promised a range of new products from Saturn, beginning shortly with the Relay minivan, a mildly reworked variation on the standard corporate version.

Saturn has essentially taken the place of the Oldsmobile division in the GM hierarchy. So what has been gained?

A division rich in heritage, but underachieving due to poor management and marketing, has been eliminated.

It has been replaced by one with no heritage, no particular focus and equally unachieving despite lavish support.

GM should have killed Saturn.

RIP, Oldsmobile.

Gerry Malloy can be reached at

mgmalloy@aol.com.
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Old 05-11-2004, 02:43 PM   #2
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sad but true...i give saturn around 5 years before it gets axed by gm...
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Old 05-11-2004, 03:08 PM   #3
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"but underachieving due to poor management and marketing, has been eliminated."

so true...i think they should have killed off saturn instead...
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Old 05-11-2004, 03:36 PM   #4
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Saturn has some great potential and can always serve as a test bed for new ideas and technologies..e.g. Polymer..plus Saturn has a decent reputation.

I would love to see Saturn take advantage of a younger market and bring some real Euro type cars over..don't dumb them down to [older] American tastes.

GM needs to be more niche..they have too many cars to go after the same piece of pie..4 practically identical minivans, Lord knows how many Trailblazer knockoffs..etc

To me Buick and Olds were practically the same for so many years.

Like so many GM things, Olds was getting on the right track before they killed it...kind of becoming more of a low end Euro luxury style..but then again Cadillac comes in and takes that position now

The Fiero comes to mind..It would have been great having a Fiero with the 180HP Quad Four, which was slated to happen just before they killed it

Who knows what's really the answer.. Maybe they just need 2 Divisions..Chevy and Cadillac...just make the Chevy's come with your choice of grills, suspension and wheels and you basically have the current GM anyways
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Old 05-11-2004, 04:07 PM   #5
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I agree with sspeer. Saturn the brand is more refreshing and easier to aim as young crowd-oriented.

Me as an example, no matter how good and techno-advanced Oldsmobile will be, I'll NEVER own an Olds because the brand name really bugs me....Olds' Mobiles....geez!

Gerry, the author did bring out some valid points (despite of the Bashing): Oldsmobile used to be themselves <-- Engineering, Platform or even Management? But GM were blanding Olds' with other divisions and held a lot of sharings......Does this sound familiar? Oh yea, now they do the same tricks to Saturn Corp and sorry but true, the same History may repeat itself again like with Olds.

God Bless Saturn, the brand.....I just hope to see it for other 10-15 years at least.
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Old 05-11-2004, 04:15 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by sspeer
Saturn has some great potential and can always serve as a test bed for new ideas and technologies..e.g. Polymer..plus Saturn has a decent reputation.

I would love to see Saturn take advantage of a younger market and bring some real Euro type cars over..don't dumb them down to [older] American tastes.

GM needs to be more niche..they have too many cars to go after the same piece of pie..4 practically identical minivans, Lord knows how many Trailblazer knockoffs..etc

To me Buick and Olds were practically the same for so many years.

Like so many GM things, Olds was getting on the right track before they killed it...kind of becoming more of a low end Euro luxury style..but then again Cadillac comes in and takes that position now

The Fiero comes to mind..It would have been great having a Fiero with the 180HP Quad Four, which was slated to happen just before they killed it

Who knows what's really the answer.. Maybe they just need 2 Divisions..Chevy and Cadillac...just make the Chevy's come with your choice of grills, suspension and wheels and you basically have the current GM anyways
The test bed may be causing problems: VTi, Electronic steering, center console. Now moving away from one of Saturns strengths .. The poly panels.
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Old 05-11-2004, 04:57 PM   #7
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I HEAR you there! The name just doesn't do it for me. To me Saturn is such a cool name, compared to Oldsmobile.

Quote:
Originally posted by Qlara
Me as an example, no matter how good and techno-advanced Oldsmobile will be, I'll NEVER own an Olds because the brand name really bugs me....Olds' Mobiles....geez!
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Old 05-11-2004, 06:10 PM   #8
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Everyone knew Olds was a Buick and part of the GM clone thing which started years ago. Saturn was all new and will do well with the right product in the future.
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Old 05-11-2004, 06:16 PM   #9
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I've come to a realization that I probably knew all along but was just too stubborn to admit it. GM is ALL about money. I don't think a single car enthusiast exists within the GM kingdom. One probably comes around every 10 years or so, makes aspirations to put out a great product on the market but then gets tired of all the bureaucracy and self-sabatoge and moves on. Its ashame with all the resources available to GM that it still seems to always come up short with regards to its products. I guess its cheaper to put out marginal cars than it is to swing for the fences.
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Old 05-11-2004, 06:20 PM   #10
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Bottom line is most Olds buyers' second choice was another GM product and most of Saturn buyers' second choice is something other than another GM vehicle. Killing Olds did much less damage to GM's market share than killing Saturn would.
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Old 05-11-2004, 08:23 PM   #11
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Quote:
Saturn has essentially taken the place of the Oldsmobile division in the GM hierarchy. So what has been gained?
Where have I heard THAT before??

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Quote:
A division rich in heritage, but underachieving due to poor management and marketing, has been eliminated.
Actually, I'd say that it was underachieving due to the fact that it lost its independence in the GM "borg" - just like "Saturn."

Quote:
It has been replaced by one with no heritage, no particular focus and equally unachieving despite lavish support.
I'd actually strongly disagree with this statement. "Lavish support" would have been if they let the independent Saturn STAY independent and design a whole line of its OWN products without mandating platform sharing and powertrain sharing. In point of fact, GM starved Saturn, then started throwing lots of GM "product" at it when they woke up to the fact that their huge initial investment in Saturn was being squandered, which is when the brand "lost its focus" as the author of the article says. That does not amount to "lavish support" in my mind, just a lot of poor decision making.

The reality is that GM is really killing off two brands: Oldsmobile, by ending its existence, and Saturn, by assimilating it into the GM fold, when most of its appeal was to those who aren't attracted to GM products.
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Old 05-11-2004, 09:30 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by ricksLS1
The test bed may be causing problems: VTi, Electronic steering, center console. Now moving away from one of Saturns strengths .. The poly panels.
The VTi should have been tested more robustly..especially in the VUE application..maybe they need to go the Audi route and use their style of CVT. Not positive on the differences, but they use chains instead of belts and I think they work on compression rather than tension

I think alot of the issues with Saturns is just coming from the press..the traditionalists. I never would have noticed the larger than steel panel gaps if they didn't mention it and even then it doesn't bother me. How many younger people really have these issues?

I give Saturn alot of credit for trying these things..there's a little pride in driving vehicles that dare to be a little different in some ways..

If Saturn can shore up some of the reliablility and improve some interior materials and give them better than average driving dynamics all while keeping the Saturn identity (better than they're doing with Saab), GM won't be able to produce enough Saturns!
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Old 05-12-2004, 12:14 AM   #13
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It would be nice if "GM" would read what we are saying, but I'm only dreaming. If only us, as a group, could design cars for GM. We'd sell.. alot.

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Old 05-12-2004, 06:05 AM   #14
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Drop Gerry a line if you feel Gerry is Bashing Saturn. I did and got a quick reply. He claims he gets 7 letters agreeing with him for every one that is against him.
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Old 05-12-2004, 07:52 AM   #15
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What got me to Saturn was their different approach to sales and design.

Cars were designed to be economical, easy to maintain, and sensible transportation. Since this market segment apparently didn't buy enough cars, Saturn moved to gadgets, style, and performance orientation. So much for the frugal consumer segment.

Sales were at MSRP with no incentives or bargaining. How refreshing that was to experience! No more.

Hopefully, Saturn's new approach as GM's innovator will work, but the original direction is no more.
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Old 05-12-2004, 01:02 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally posted by xFan
The reality is that GM is really killing off two brands: Oldsmobile, by ending its existence, and Saturn, by assimilating it into the GM fold, when most of its appeal was to those who aren't attracted to GM products.
Thats me. Saturn *was* the only GM brand that interested me when I was looking for a car. At the time, there wasn't another GM that appealed to me at all. And now, there isn't a new Saturn that appeals to me. So the odds of me buying another Saturn or GM are extremely thin.
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Old 05-12-2004, 05:25 PM   #17
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In response to this

"""Drop Gerry a line if you feel Gerry is Bashing Saturn, He claims he gets 7 letters agreeing with him for every one that is against him."""


I believe this to be the case as there are more 60+ year olds hanging around the house to read Gerrys article that were Oldsmobile fans then there are younger Saturn supporters who typically work during the day.. No offense to any seniors here

I believe GM made the right decision to lose Oldsmobile, but the question remains ... Can GM save Saturn?

Only time will tell
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Old 05-13-2004, 06:41 AM   #18
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While I can see Gerry Malloy's point of view regarding the Oldsmoblie...what I can't see is his point of view on Saturn. Granted, yes...GM has squandered the money that it was going to supply to Saturn and now has sucked it into the Fold of the GM umbrella, I still believe that Saturn will be able to maintain itself as an "independent" even though it is under the GM umbrella...I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I think that GM will still supply Saturn with the neccessary tools...I don't think that GM is going to go to Saturn dealers and tell them.."okay now since you are part of the GM family umbrella, we are going to change you to a three label dealership (Saturn/Pontiac/ Chevy) etc.) As a matter of fact, Saturn of Beechmont was a Saturn/Pontiac dealership until about 6 months ago, when GM CLOSED a few of the GM dealerships becuase there were too MANY...

Regardless...Saturn, even though it has been innovative, has been a problem child for GM from Day One when the whole idea of a Compact Car to compete with the imports was thought up back in 1982...even then Roger Smith's idea was looked at with Frowns by the GM higher-ups...I saw a concept car of the "Original Saturn" that was built back in the late 80s and it looked alot like a mix between a Chrysler LeBaron and the L-Series....strange how a body design floats around for many years....

In regards to Gerry Malloy's article...I'll be sending him an email asking him how many Oldsmobiles he has owned and how many of them went over the 200,000 mile mark like my ONE Saturn has with virutally no major repairs done to it at all. I expect that I will leave him speechless, as he probably wouldn't believe that I have 250,000 miles on my Saturn.

As I stated in a previous post, yes an auto legend has passed but I am not losing sleep over the end of Oldsmobile...the best years of the olds were the 1950s-1970s, after that it was like....okay we have made all of the cool cars, let's just make throw away cars (Cutlass Ciera)....It was time for Oldmobile to go out to pasture....hopefully Saturn at least has another 10 years or 20 years maybe.

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Old 05-13-2004, 09:27 AM   #19
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What I agree on is the fact that GM is ingesting Saturn into its own corporate belly.

I cannot agree more with that :
Quote:
The semblance of independence Saturn once enjoyed is long gone. Its products now, and in future plans, are variations on corporate GM platforms, the same as for other divisions the same as it was for Oldsmobile.
IMHO There is nothing much left now from the "old" saturn philosophy to differentiate it from another GM brand. Same marketing, same bosses, same platforms, rebadging and so on...

The other day I was thinking about current customer service at Saturn, its still good but there is something less than before, I dont know what, but I have that feeling. Its just not as surprising as before. Maybe they know they are just incorporating as another GM division and it reflect somehow.

To me, for GM to keep me as a Saturn customer, what is important is the customer service and most of all, the polymer. It might sounds stupid but to me its important and that's all. If they remove that, then I think I'll get a Toyota instead. I know they had/have a bad reputation for customer service but there is one here that seems quite nice. My girlfriend is going there for servicing her Tercel and I am pleasantly surprised the way they works; every time.

Also, saying the polymer reduce the build quality of Saturns and removing it is the only alternative is just bull. What people complain in general is the poor interior, never the polymer design. If they would invest 100$ more on the interior for each car they build, they would have a killer in their hands, let me tell you. The Japanesse have understood that for a long time now

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Old 05-14-2004, 08:37 AM   #20
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It just occurred to me. Why in the heck does GM need GMC Truck? Talk about a rebadge. I suppose it's cheap since they don't do any real development work besides deciding what to rename a Chevy
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