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GM's Saturn: A New Era And Chance to Shine

Friday, 5 Jun 2009 | 9:38 AM ET
Saturn Aura
Source: saturn.com
Saturn Aura

Whenever I tell people that Saturn has been a neglected, and potentially highly profitable jewel in the GM family of brands, people look at me like I've got three heads.

They point out Saturn's line-up of vehicles have been largely unimpressive (yes, a few were so bland even cars from communist Russia had more personality) and the brand never made money for GM . True, but those things obscure the potential of Saturn.

Now we will find out if a new owner, with a fresh perspective, can spin Saturn into a new orbit. Penske Auto Group is buying Saturn and with it, a distribution network that is among the best in the industry.

Most people know Penske CEO Roger Penske because of his success owning and running Indy car race teams. What most of the public does not realize is just how savvy Penske is at running an auto dealer network.

That's why Penske buying Saturn is a "win, win" for him and Saturn fans. Penske wins because the Saturn Distribution Network is among the best in the auto business. The Saturn dealers picked by GM when it started the brand are in the upper tier.

Go check out a Saturn dealership, and you'll see why people generally give Saturn dealers high marks. It's also a win for Saturn fans because Penske will give the brand the attention (read: new product) it needs to thrive.

That's what Saturn needs. It needs an owner who realizes fresh, distinctive models married to the Saturn dealership experience could be a winning, and profitable combination.

Penske and his team will work with GM initially to build Saturn models, but eventually I expect future models to come from other auto makers around the world. Renault out of France is one possibility. As long as they are not bland duplicates (as they were for many years at GM), Saturn fans won't care if the man on the moon builds them.

One thing is certain, a new era is about to start for Saturn. The little brand with so much promise is finally going to get a chance to shine.

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Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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