Saturn Corporation is a division of General Motors (GM) and a brand of automobiles. It was established on January 7, 1985 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of GM, and is active almost exclusively in the United States and Canada. GM began manufacturing Saturn automobiles in 1990, largely in response to the success of Japanese small-car imports in the United States. During the first decade of the 21st century, GM has moved the brand upmarket, to the mid-price segment that was once occupied by Oldsmobile.
Saturn was named after the rocket that took American astronauts to the moon and not after the planet. Saturn's motto was initially "A different kind of company, a different kind of car." Drawing from experiences gained through its NUMMI and CAMI Automotive joint ventures, GM organized the Saturn Corporation differently from their existing divisions, attempting to emulate the Japanese management techniques. At Saturn, union workers would have more control and involvement in the plant.
The Saturn Corporation also created its own distribution network from scratch, which was both independent and different from those used by older GM divisions. There was much emphasis put on the quality of customer service, with insights drawn from travel and hospitality as well as consumer retail industries, rather than traditional automotive sales. The uniqueness of Saturn's distribution network was emphasized by referring to what would usually be called "dealers" as "retailers", and conversely "retail facilities" in lieu of "dealerships". Such "retail facilities" served non-competing "market areas". They are noted for their no-haggle pricing, where the cars are sold at their exact sticker price, their no-pressure sales environments, and professional sales staff. The Saturn Corporation strove to build a community spirit among their customers by hosting annual "homecoming" events at its former Spring Hill, Tennessee manufacturing plant, as well a day-to-day special events in retail settings.
Saturn values were initially communicated through image advertising created by the Hal Riney advertising agency.
Nevertheless, from the business point of view, the Saturn Corporation never proved successful. In 1993, Saturn announced its first profitable quarter, and later, its first profitable year. However, there is no evidence that GM has ever recouped its massive investment in the company. In any case, the company struggled so much that, in the new millennium, it was decided to integrate the company in to the GM infrastructure in 2003, with Bob Lutz aiming to bring the brand closer to its GM European franchise, Opel.
General Motors even chose west-coast Saturn retailers to sell and service the short-lived and highly politicized electric car, the EV1, in the mid 1990's.
The Saturn Corporation began in December 1982 with a group of 99 people from various aspects of the automotive industry. Everyone from production and assembly, design and prototyping, sales and finance, as well as the corporate "white collar" positions were represented in this group called "the 99." Originally, there were 100. However one dropped out thus becoming "the 99."
Saturn's headquarters, retail employee training facility and primary manufacturing facility were originally located in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The facility was chosen in 1985, after a highly publicized nationwide search for a site. The plant has since been retooled to produce other General Motors vehicles.
Saturn was originally established as a fully-owned, but independently administered subsidiary of General Motors, with GM executive Bill Hoglund at its helm. It was hoped that lessons learned from Saturn would trickle down to the rest of General Motors to make them more competitive against foreign automakers and improve labor relations. Since the 2000s, Saturn has been gradually losing its autonomy, as new models, for example, do not utilize polymer side panels and are derivatives of other GM models. Production has since been moved to other GM plants. Production of Saturn vehicles at the Tennessee facility ceased on March 30, 2007. Initially, the Saturn Corporation was headed by a president who consulted with a Union local counterpart and reported to the GM Board of Directors. As the role of Saturn changed within General Motors, the chief executive role was shifted to be a Vice President of Sales, Service and Marketing. Since 2005, Jill Lajdziak, previously a VP of Sales, Service and Marketing, has been the General Manager of Saturn, who reports to the Vice President of the GM Small Car Group.
Saturn is known for its company-wide "no-haggle" sales philosophy. Saturn dealers (called "retailers" by the company) are encouraged to sell vehicles at listed MSRP price. Customer satisfaction with dealer service is among the highest of any car brand in the US The company also won praise for its environmentally-conscious manufacturing processes and for its innovations such as using flexible plastic side panels on its cars to avoid minor dents. However, in 2005, the Saturn Relay became the first Saturn vehicle without polymer side paneling. This has carried over to all new vehicles released from the 2007 model year forward.
The company's products used a dedicated platform called the Z-body and a dedicated engine, the 1.9 L Saturn I4 engine, and a dedicated plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. All of the original Saturns featured dent-resistant plastic body panels which were also touted as allowing the company to change the look of the vehicles at will. However, in practice, the company did not take advantage of this capability often.
The first real change came with the 2000 Saturn L-Series mid-size car. It shared the GM2900 platform with the Opel Vectra, along with its engine, and was built at a GM factory in Wilmington, Delaware. The Saturn Sky is now being produced in the Wilmington facility along with the essentially-identical Opel GT and closely related Pontiac Solstice.
Today, the company shares GM's Delta, Epsilon, Lambda and Theta automobile platforms, along with the company's Ecotec - including the new 2.4L LE5 I4, Turbo 2.0L LNF I4, and DCVCP 1.8L I4 - with the V6's being the High Feature LY7 3.6L V6 and High Value LZ4 3.5L V6 engines. Vehicles are built at many GM plants throughout the world. The Saturn VUE used a Honda engine in the past, and the plastic body panels have been discontinued on most current vehicles.
In past years, Saturn sales had been declining, and the ION production lines were halted for two weeks in 2003 to allow dealer inventory to reduce. The L-Series was canceled after production of the 2005 models, and the ION was canceled after 2007.
The current Saturn models are as follows: Sky roadster, Aura sedan, Astra hatchback, VUE small crossover SUV and Outlook large crossover SUV built off of the GM Lambda platform (replacing the Relay minivan). GM decided that Saturn and Opel will share numerous models that differ only slightly. For example, the 2008 Saturn VUE will be almost the same as the Opel Antara, the Opel GT is a copy of the Saturn Sky, while the Opel Astra will be brought over as the Saturn Astra to replace the current ION as the entry-level car, and the Saturn Aura is similar to the Opel Vectra.
The company offers two sub-lines of vehicles: "Red Line" Saturns are performance-oriented, while "Green Line" cars will be more environmentally friendly. The VUE and ION Red Line models, launched in 2004, have been joined by VUE and AURA Green Lines for the 2007 model year, and Sky and Aura and Red Lines for model year 2008.