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Sayonara, Saturn

- February 28, 2009

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I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Saturn — the car, not the planet. When they first came out, they were kind of funny looking but I liked their way of doing business: Here’s the price — take it or leave it. No negotiating, no hassle.

Over the years, though, GM sent out mixed messages about Saturns. One year they were supposed to be simple, the next year futuristic, or economical, or luxurious, or … whatever. And now, inevitably, GM, having already jettisoned Oldsmobile (for which I also have a soft spot, in remembrance of my father’s 1956 two-tone lime and charcoal Super 88), is about to dump Saturn as well.

A couple of years ago, I decided that I simply had to have a new car; my biorhythms seem to dictate that every couple of years I get that old yearning, and I never fail to succumb to it. I decided that I’d look at some nice-but-not-ridiculously-expensive cars, like an Acura TL and a Lexus ES350, as well as a couple of less expensive models that had all the same bells and whistles, the Subaru Legacy and the Saturn Aura.

I test-drove the Subaru and the Saturn and liked them both. Then I drove the Acura and liked it more, and then the Lexus and liked it even more. Next to those two, the Subaru and the Saturn just seemed, I don’t know, a little cheesy. Not really, but by comparison.

Now I realize why I came to that conclusion. According to an item in this week’s Business Week:

bq. By [2007], GM’s research was showing that the Saturn brand was badly damaged. When the automaker showed buyers the Aura with the nameplate removed, the car scored a respectable 3.4 out of four. With the Saturn badge affixed to the hood, the same car scored a measly 2.0. Saturn, in a way, tells a larger story about GM. The automaker is making better cars, but most of the brands are so diminished that few buyers believe it.

All of which establishes, I suppose, that I am a typical brand-conscious consumer. And for that, the folks at GM probably have no one but themselves to blame — for not getting their story straight and sticking with it.

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