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The Truth About Saturn: A Different Kind of Car Company | WheelHouse

The Truth About Saturn: A Different Kind of Car Company | WheelHouse

Today on Wheelhouse we’re talking Saturn;
not the planet! The Company! Why the company was started, their ambitious
plan to change the game, and how it all came crashing down. It’s a sad story of forward thinking, wasted
potential, and self-sabotage. This is the truth about Saturn. In the 60s, gas was cheap, so American car
companies paid no attention to fuel economy. But that thinking had to change in the 70s,
when the oil crisis made gas prices skyrocket, and sent consumers looking for more efficient
options. American consumers started taking Japanese
companies like Honda and Datsun more seriously, and by proxy, so did Detroit; which for years
had been completely underestimating their eastern competition. Domestic manufacturers were simply not great
at making small, economical cars at this point. While cars like GM’s 70’s-era Vega and
Chevette sold well, it was almost a universal consensus that the Japanese did small cars
better, and soon, cars like Honda’s Civic and Toyota’s Corolla were dominating the
compact car market. In the boardrooms of GM, a plan was being…planned. They didn’t want to make more small cars
under their existing brands, because they thought customers might think of them as cheap
runts of the lineup. So they had to build an entirely new car company
from scratch. In 1982, GM VPs Alex Mair and Robert Eaton
began work on the project. It would eventually be named Saturn, after
the rocket which carried America to the moon, winning that other great race that set the
world’s pace and earned us the top place in the galactic starchase, the Space Race. General Motors hoped that the totally new
company would overcome any negative brand-associations buyers had with small cars and American companies. And when I say “totally new company”,
I mean it was totally new: new car design, new engine, new production plant, new workforce,
new dealers, and even new ways of producing the car in the first place. What made Saturn completely different from
its competitors was the ownership structure between management, engineers, and the factory
workers. In other GM brands like Chevrolet and Pontiac,
the Management would tell the engineers what to build, the engineers would draw up the
design, and the factory would build the bureaucracy-approved product without giving input on what they
were making. But at Saturn, the dynamic would be a little
different, and had potential to change the auto industry forever. Major decisions at car companies are usually
made from the top down, but at Saturn, the United Auto Workers union now had a huge input
on their car’s design, meaning that people working on the factory floor could tell the
engineers and management what would and wouldn’t work. This shared ownership of Saturn between everyone
involved had an interesting effect on the workplace culture: It turns out if you listen to your employees
and make them feel like their voices matter, they give you their loyalty and productivity
increases. GM set up the Saturn factory in Spring Hill,
Tennessee, far outside the influence of Detroit. People were excited! Spring Hill is a small town outside of Nashville,
and General Motors is going to build a factory here? Making completely new cars? Awesome! I remember when we finally got a movie theater
my senior year, this Factory must have been at least twice as exciting as that. The car that Spring Hill would produce was
dubbed the “Saturn S-series”, with sedan models named SL, and the SC coupe. The largest departure from traditional car
design used on the S-series was the use of a space-frame design. This design, which takes structural and crash
load off of the side panels, meant that Saturn could use their signature dent-resistant plastic
body panels instead of metal even though the SL and SC were made to
compete with Japanese cars, they didn’t have the tech of their eastern competitors,
so GM based all of their marketing around the fact Saturns were built in small-town
USA. GM was banking that would see how Saturn was
doing things differently, and that they would want to get in on that excitement. In fact, Saturn’s slogan was “A New Kind
of Car Company.” This fresh approach went all the way to the
showroom as well: Saturn dealerships were haggle free, meaning the price you saw was
the price you paid. And when you bought your new Saturn, dealership
employees would give you applause as you got in and drove away. It honestly looks like a cult People loved their Saturns. The company even hosted a ‘homecoming’
at Spring Hill where thousands of Saturn owners from all over would meet up and party at the
factory. GM had successfully marketed an American small
car, a feat unheard of just ten years earlier. By the end of 1995, Saturn had built over
a million cars in it’s short 6 year history. But the good times wouldn’t last forever. While the S line was updated three
times during its life, there was no escaping that Saturn only really had one car to sell. This stagnation, combined with the fact that
the “new company” shine had worn away, meant that Saturn sales were slowing down While new cars were needed, GM was a bit strapped
for cash, and couldn’t afford to design a totally new, unique vehicle for Saturn,
like the S-Series. In fact, GM would never be able to design
a unique Saturn again, making the S-Series a bit of a unicorn. Instead, GM would dip into it’s parts bin
from around the world to make future Saturn’s, and the first car to emerge from this corporate
rummage was the L-series, introduced as a 2000 model year. The L was basically a rebadged Opel Vectra,
which sucked. Sensing a shift in the market, GM execs decided
Saturn also needed a crossover SUV. The Saturn Vue debuted in 2002, and was a
rebadged Chevy Equinox, which was another rebadged Opel. GM had created Saturn to operate in a way
that wasn’t like GM. But now, General Motors was forcing Saturn
to act like General Motors. Saturn had always been the oddball in GM’s
lineup. And while it’s employees were happy and
customers loyal, neither of those things meant new sales, and that meant no money coming
in. GM had yet to get a return on their investment
in Saturn. They had spent nearly five billion on development
and the Spring Hill facility. Since GM was a little light in the wallet,
that meant Saturn was in the crosshairs of the cost cutters. If Saturn didn’t start making money soon,
it would mean bad news. Following the release of the VUE and the L-series,
Saturn would finally kill of their watershed S-series in 2002. The Saturn ION would be introduced in 2003
to replace it, and shared its Delta platform with many GM cars, including the Cobalt. Despite introducing three new vehicles for
the new millennium, Saturn remained fairly small-fry in the industry. Their promise of a haggle-free experience
still proved to be attractive, however the market was no longer theirs alone, as Toyota
had introduced Scion and their no-haggle price models in 2003. This competition, combined with a steadily
worsening economic situation would combine to hit Saturn hard. Very hard. By 2005 Saturn was in chaos, unable to make
any money on it’s own. Competition within and without GM was stifling
the now-stale brand. The company was out of options and completely
resigned itself to selling a lineup made of all rebadged vehicles. Two years later, Saturn introduced all new
vehicles, with everything except the Vue getting replaced. The new line included the Sky, which was Saturn’s
first interesting car since their debut. But it was also just a rebadged Opel, and
didn’t sell on top of that. Nothing could save Saturn, as the economic
recession that struck the US in 2008 created a dire situation at GM. To save General Motors, the government provided
assistance in the form of their now-famous “bail-out” package, on the condition that
the plethora of companies GM owned and sold cars under be paired down So how did it get so bad? A 2010 lawsuit found that Saturn’s Vice
president and General Manager Jill Lajdziak didn’t know whether or not Saturn was making
money. She said that in a deposition Under Oath. To a lawyer. And she wasn’t the only one, their CFO Edward
Toporzycki said he didn’t know Saturn’s financial condition while he was involved
with the company. He’s the CFO! FInancial is in his title! So in 2010 three GM companies, Pontiac, Hummer,
and Saturn, all closed their doors, producing their last car, probably for good. While General Motors ended up surviving the
recession, their grand experiment in “a new kind of car company”, which they called
Saturn, did not. I think Saturn could have been great if GM
had let them stay true to their mission. They created Saturn to be a new kind of company,
and at the start, they were. What doomed this company that GM created to
run differently, was that GM ran it like GM. We explore lesser known stories in the car
world every week, so make sure you hit that yellow subscribe button right there. or right there, or right there, I don’t know where it is. Do you own an SL or SC? Do you like it? Let me know in the comments. Follow me on IG @ nolanjsykes, follow Donut Wear your seatbelt, see you next time.

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100 thoughts on “The Truth About Saturn: A Different Kind of Car Company | WheelHouse

  1. This is such a bizarre whitewash of GM's treatment of Saturn. Saturn was killed by infighting more than anything.

  2. I had a 1995 Saturn sw1. Loved that car. They really did make a big deal when I bought it. Balloons and cookies for the kids. On the 1yr anniversary, we got a card. I was sad to trade it in for a minivan when our family outgrew it.

  3. My mother had a Saturn Vue (used) that lasted until 2014, we live in TN because that matters apparently, and it was amazing. She would still have it if she had spent a lot of money on it, but she ended up just buying a new Chevrolet Equinox. We still has the plastic trunk mat, she took it out to clean and forgot it or something, but it’s still sentimental to me.

  4. "No haggle". That's total BS. You always negotiate. You can't convince me that if a I tried to but a car in 1995 with a sticker of $22587 that I couldn't get it for $21500. You also have to figure you haggle your trade. You say Blue Book the dealer says Black Book. The worse part of buying a new car is the fight it takes to get a deal.

  5. A Saturn hit my Crown Victoria and completely disintegrated. It didn't even scratch my paint! 😂😂🤣🤣😃

  6. Saturn could never thrive as a GM brand, in its beginning it was far ahead of the other brands, and that's just why it could never be a success for too long. They should have let Penske buy it which was once a plan at one point.

  7. My 2001 SL2 Saturn is easy to fix and parts are dirt cheap and still plentiful. It was the last of the Saturn Saturn's. I have driven it 1000's and 1000's of miles with nary a complain. Bought it from the estate of a deceased elderly woman who had bought the car new and never drove it in the rain. It had just 32000 miles on it. The interior still smelled like her perfume and she smelled like a very nice lady. Even-tho my stank is in it now, I can tell "grandma" is still there, hand on my shoulder, watching over me,, making sure each of my trips in her car is a safe one.

  8. my mom had a Saturn. that thing was in a flood, in accidents, had all these problem but no matter what the thing refused to die. it just kept running. the car was a legend

  9. i worked at saginaw steering gear when saturn begain they came in and said they would only pay so much for a part therefore quality suffered as parts were made to a cost funny, saginaw steering gear became delphi and it and saturn were both killed by G.M.

  10. Today we talk about car crompany name of Staturn. It's not a planet, you dingus! CHECK IT OUT! -Dr. Steve Brule

  11. I have plenty of family and friends that now own or use to own various Saturn's. There great great, reliable cars. Other than replacing the typical wear parts and maintenance they never needed anything. The engine's are built extremely well and there easy to work on for most of the typical repairs. None of them ever had any engine or transmission trouble. Goes to prove that Americans can build car's to be reliable as any other manufacturer's offerings. We just don't do it often enough.

  12. I remember everyone wanting a Saturn in the Early-90's and when you went into their showrooms it was different than many other companies, then around 2003 when I was car shopping went back to Saturn dealership it was empty and depressing, they got away from what made it work

  13. I remember them advertising how reliable their cars were. How some of their earliest models were still be driven "today." Well, I did the math back then, and that would mean their most reliable car was a mere 10 years old. They might've not even gone 100k miles by then.

  14. Been through 3 Saturns great cars ,and fun fact the dealership sold aftermarket parts such as flame thrower exhaust and light weight rims etc and you had almost a buffet while you waited.

  15. The Sky wasn't a rebadged Opel. It was based on the same platform as the Pontiac Solstice, and was sold as a Vauxhall in the UK, and I think as an Opel as well, but the originals were the Pontiac and Saturn.

  16. I loved my 1992 SL1… by 2004 when I was ready to get another car. I hated the replacement of the SL1, the ion…
    I miss my SL1

  17. The old Saturn factory is Spring Hill is still there today responsible for making the Chevy Equinox and it's GMC counterpart. I've been there before. Quite a large factory to behold and it employed a lot of locals.

  18. I have a 1997 Saturn SW1 wagon with the little 4 cylinder engine. I have had it for about 15 years. It has over 460,000 miles on it with no signs of stopping. Yes I have done some repairs including replacing all 4 fuel injectors and a manifold gasket. Several other components also had to be replaced but parts were easy to replace and relatively low cost. Remember, this car is 22 years old and the clear coat has just now began to peel.

  19. Anyone remember that when the very first Saturns came out, they had put coolant fluid in the transmission, or transmission fluid in the coolant system? I recall that, hundreds of cars were sold that way, they self destroyed in days and that hit the news FAST,and those people got FREE cars for replacement. I didnt get one of them…but anyone else remember that? Wish I got an the SC with the pop up lights,3 drs. in bright yellow! But alas, nope. never got one. Bummer:(

  20. my dad had an sc2 from 2008 to 2015 and in that time it went from 180k miles to 280 something and me being a mechanic did all the work to that car… and by all the work I mean an alternator. yes 7 years and 100k miles on a 20 something year old car and all it ever needed was an alternator. oh and a temp sensor, and of course brakes, amazingly reliable.

  21. Family had a Saturn dealership..was amazing! All 5 of our saturns got 350,00+ miles. They truly are amazing… then of course… the new versions sucked asssssss.our vue got to 180,000 trouble free but every other one was just junk. And it also was a hassle dealing with GM. And when they closed they really screwed some people and their retirement and benefits up.

  22. GM's biggest problem is GM management, Saturn is just 1 of many GM bean counting failures…the share holders SHOULD throw top management out, and start a fresh!

  23. Two of my friends owned Saturn SL1 cars. They both work as couriers. Two of those cars made 360000 miles with no major problems and the other car reached 420,000 miles before the trans started to leak. If you find a low mileage Saturn buy it. Not fancy cars but they are solid. Do NOT buy the Saturn Vue.

  24. I love Pontiac, but Saturn's were just awful. They are the worst car in the snow, seriously. Always got stuck in that death trap! They were fairly reliable though. I wish GM would bring Pontiac back though. I loved many of their cars.

  25. You are so cute!!
    Had a 95 Saturn SL2 in high school. That thing wouldn’t die!! Had almost 200k miles when I got rid of it.

  26. GM's decisions with Saturn around 2008 were some of the dumbest they ever made. They wouldn't be worrying about Tesla today. See, they did have a hybrid on the market and should have capitalized on that. But they decided to throw in the towel and kill the whole brand. Now they're stuck back to making dinosaur SUVs and have nothing to compete with. Look at their Volt. It STILL isn't an all electric vehicle but a hybrid and they had to sell the Hummer brand and shut down Pontiac and Saturn. I predict only Tesla and Amazon (when they get around to making an electric car) will be the only US brands left. The US car market is finished and will not be able to compete because of their drunk-ass management, most of whom have their brains stuck in the 1970s.

  27. I got a 2001 Saturn sl1 as my first car (I turned 16 this month) while my Saturn is beat up and not very pretty it rims and drives really good and I love it. I also don’t intend on selling it anytime soon, in fact I have major plans to up the power of my Saturn and turn it into a complete sleeper

  28. my mom bought a saturn sl2 from a dealer in Boise back in 1998. still runs and the only thing wrong is the outer chipping clear coat

  29. GM is no good in business,just have luck that keeps them going.Ceo and the head givers are cleaning out the til . Pontiac ,saturn,the Ev1 all should be now where tesla is or beyond . Gm also sold Opel to the french . and Opels in europe are respected as good .

  30. You guys nailed this one. Saturn was just getting started and GM was GM about it. Great cars, should’ve kept em around.

  31. One thing is listening to your employees, and another thing is listening to a union. Unions don’t have to act in the workers’ best interest. Just like governments don’t have to act in the people’s best interest

  32. a 2005 Saturn VUE was my first car and I enjoyed it in the summer. Problem was is that in Wisconsin, it snows alot and the VUE was pretty light, so it was not the greatest. Even if I did not like the thing too much, I love it that it was my first car

  33. I used to have a 2001 SL with a 5-speed. I loved that car, but lost it to the ex in my divorce. I just recently got an ‘06 ION for $1,300. So far it’s been great.

  34. Those Saturns were great car…we called my friends Saturn the Zombie cause the fking thing would not die 😂

  35. I had a 93' SL2. It had a "performance" button, and when pushed, it turned into a spaceship that didn't shift into second gear until you hit 45 mph.

  36. My Shaturd is 02 SL2 DOHC 5-Speed Manuel. I've replaced the crank twice because it burns so much oil between oil changes it got oil starved and spun a bearing, twice. Patched a hole in the transmission twice because the differential comes apart and tears up the case. JB Weld does some amazing things. Still love the car, made in the USA

  37. Some of your information is not accurate. I was a Saturn tech for 13 years. The S car was amazing. Plus most people didn't know how fast you can make them. I had a 95 SC2 that had over 300hp when I finished it.
    The View was not a rebadged chevy it shared very few parts. Saturn was the first to have the ecotec motors.
    The end of Saturn began when GM made Saturn take Oldsmobile's spot in the cookie cutter GM line up.
    There were 16 buyers lined up who wanted to buy Saturn. 1 who wanted to buy Saab, 1 who wanted to buy Hummer. O who wanted to buy Pontiac.
    The front runner was Roger Penske. There was also President Obama's first car Czar in the running.
    Roger Penske won the bid. This would have changed the auto industry. They could not let this happen. On the day of closing the deal Nissan ( who was in the middle of making the Sentra a safer car so Penske could rebadge it as a Saturn) pulled out of the deal. ( a week later Nissan was approved to use onstar. That ended up not happening)
    Penske asked for 60 days to sure up his plan B for a small car. GM said no. He asked for 30 days. Again they said no. Penske being a smart business man knew by signing that day he would be fined for being over the required average gas mileage for a car company. He pulled out of the deal. Instead of selling to one of the other 15 buyers who were interested, GM decided to give it the axe instead of keeping thousands of people at work. One congressman let it slip the the first car czar was going to get Saturn as an all electric car before he got in trouble and had to step down. It was all a political game.
    Btw I still have 1 Saturn. 2001 special addition yellow SC2 with close to 300k miles on it. Still has the original clutch. My wife, my son, and my daughter have learned to drive manual in this car. And yes I have added some things to make it go faster. All bolt on stuff. Never had the head off. Still has original timing chain.

  38. I had a blue 2001 Saturn SL2 1.8L and that mothertrucker was a die hard. It never left me and it had over 200,000 miles. I sold it to someone and I regret it every day 😭

  39. i got 93 sl2 only has 96,000.. runs great havent done anything to it but change tires.. lol got antique plates on it.. so i dont drive it much now..

  40. I've owned one in the past loved the motor, alot of people actually dirt track race the dual cam ones down here on the gulf coast and do pretty well! 8/10 would recommend… Interior was cheap…

  41. I am gonna sound like an IDIOT, but these brands are my favourite cars,btw I like more cars,but these 2 brands are nice.

  42. I can't complain about my 2000 SL2 at all. To be honest it's like a good old dog. "Are we going somewhere?! Ok I'm just gotta settle for the speed limit and sip fuel, kay? Sorry if my suspension squeaks a bit." Its an honest car and makes no bones about it.
    I've had a few vehicles along side of it, but the car runs too good to sell. Sitting at 280,000 too. Burns and leaks a quart every 1000 miles. Doesnt get worse, but hasn't gotten better. I'd say it's one of my favorite rides. Wish you could still get engine rebuild kits

  43. I had a 95 Sc1. It was a great small 2 door car and I drove it for years, but it was too lacking in rear seating for my new born sons car seat. I then bought a used 4 door Saturn SL2. I had some problems with it but just chocked that up to it being used and having over 300000 miles. I would have purchased a new Saturn but heard they were going out of business so I bought a new Hyundai Elantra instead. I'm still driving that Elantra today.

  44. My first car was a 93 SC2 I bought for 200 dollars in Jan. of 2016. I still have the damn thing but dont drive it much no more. I've also had a 2002 Saturn SC2

  45. The cult of car… Now all they need is for people to tune in week after week just to hear certain members tall about cars…

  46. plastic panels awesome, sl wagon aweseome, everything else was just so far behind in styling but till today Saturn was the most reliable car from Chev. SL Wagons are really cool when complimented with some wheels and suspension period

  47. I remember being a kid (I'm gen z, hate me after reading) and seeing how Saturns were always the ugliest car in the lot (unless, of course, it was one-downed by an aztec). Seeing this video, I feel like I just spit on a saint's grave. Automakers that care about their employees more than their money are rarer than diamonds sourced fairly.

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