Monday, June 08, 2009

Interesting News for Saturn

DETROIT — Roger Penske's dealership group doesn't hold a single Saturn franchise, but now he's offered to buy from General Motors the whole kit and caboodle. Penske's vision, as he laid it out in an exclusive interview with Edmunds' AutoObserver Friday shortly after GM and the Penske Group announced they had made a deal for Saturn, is to sell GM-made models in Saturn showrooms while shopping the globe for other vehicles to sell and eventually convincing the offshore manufacturers of those vehicles to make them in the United States.

For the moment, Saturn dealers will continue to sell GM-made models — the compact Saturn Outlook crossover. GM will make those vehicles for Penske Auto for at least three years through their model life cycles. An extension for GM-produced models could be negotiated beyond that.

"Concurrent with that, we'll go around the world to see what products could be brought into this country," Penske said. Those foreign-made products will begin filtering into Saturn showrooms in 12-18 months, he added.

High on the shopping list will be aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, safety and styling — key traits that Saturn's existing customer base finds important, Penske noted.

"We'll be focused and targeted on models that serve the existing Saturn customer base and in the price ranges that already have surfaced with the existing owner base," he said. Vehicles will include SUVs, coupes and four-door models, he said.

A former racecar driver and still a race team owner, Penske said performance, which Saturn tried to do with its Red Line models, will take a backseat for now.

"We need to be focused on the core volume before we become a specialty house. We need to generate volume," he said, noting Saturn's volume has fallen to less than 100,000 vehicles sold annually. "We need to get back to a 150,000-200,000 run rate. Then we'll look at specialty items.

"Performance is close to my heart and adds value to attract certain customers," he continued. "But first we have to be sure the customer base is satisfied with low-cost and efficient models."

Inside Line says: A very early look at Penske's very big plans for Saturn. — Michelle Krebs, Editor, Edmunds'

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