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Saturn: Final Orbit

After 20 years, plenty or promise, and plenty of "what ifs", Saturn is approaching the end of the road. The brand GM created and proudly called "a different kind of car company" is falling victim to the same fate as Oldsmobile -a sister GM brand back in the 90's.

2008 Saturn Aura
2008 Saturn Aura

The fact GM and Penske Automotive Group could not finalize their deal is a bit of a surprise. Largely because Penske was so close to wrapping up the deal. But when a potential third party supplier of autos told Penske it would not build vehicles for the Saturn brand, Penske told GM he no longer wanted Saturn. And instead of looking for another buyer, GM is simply winding down the brand. Talk about things coming undone quickly.

It's one more un-fulfilled promise for a brand GM once held up as an example of how it could change and take on foreign competitors.

Just four years after it started in 1990, Saturn sales hit their peak at just over 286,000. Heck, Saturn dealers were selling more cars on average than dealers of other major brands. The "no haggle" model for buying a car was part of the Saturn appeal. And in 1995 when thousands of Saturn owners met at the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, many of us said, "ahhh, what a great story."

16 years later it's a far different feeling. Yes, Saturn has a great dealer network, loyal owners, and squeaky clean image. None of that matters if you don't have product to push. For years Saturn was a forgotten brand at GM. If I had a dollar for every time a GM or Saturn executive said, "We just need fresh models, then Saturn will come back", I'd be rich enough to buy a Saturn dealership myself.

For all their talk, and occasionally rolling out new Saturn models, GM never gave this brand a chance to truly thrive. In the late 90's they deprived Saturn of new models. Then the company focused marketing dollars on the HUMMER and Chevy brands. Finally, about 5 years ago, GM inally turned on the product pipeline for Saturn. The Sky, Vue, and Aura brought someattention, but little in sales.

While I understand why many will be sad at the death of Saturn, it's probably best for GM to move on and quit wasting time trying to find another buyer for the brand. The promise at GM now is in building off its strengths, not in helping a brand that generated just 4 percent of the GM sales this year.

So long Saturn. You could have been a different kind of car company, if GM would have made some different choices over the last 20 years.

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