General Motors launched Saturn in the mid 1980’s as a “different kind of car company”. Saturn quickly became a high ranker in consumer satisfaction. Their cars were attractive and held value. They were competing quite well with some of the imports know for economy and life span. So… what went wrong? You probably can not take one singular point as the problem but a high ranker could be the GM mindset of building one car with several labels. Saturns began to be built on the same platforms as other GM brands’ models. What was a “different kind of car company” became “the same car with a different badge”.
Enter Roger Penske. Anyone familiar with the Penske name will know he doesn’t jump without looking. It does not mean he never misses (Penske Car Care Centers…) but it does mean he sees something with potential. He has a deal with GM to basically supply Saturn models for the next couple of years. Penske will have to eventually set up or take over his own design and manufacturing facilities. Some current Saturn models are re-badged European models from Opel/Vauxhall. It has been rumored the Chinese are looking at the Opel label and it would seem unlikely that Penske would, with the facilities in place in the U.S., purchase a Chinese owned product just to drop his badge on it.
The questions remain and the answers may be some time in coming. Can Roger Penske succeed with Saturn? Will the Chinese take control of the Opel name which some of the Saturns are based on? Will Penske get control of manufacturing facilities inside the United States? What would a Penske design team put out to the American public? Will it continue to be “Saturn” or will we see a “Penske” brand take shape?
The answers to these questions will, hopefully, be very exciting for the American automotive public.