Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Car Pr0n #91

Today's car is an interesting case study in how to ruin a perfectly good brand.


1991 Saturn SL. When Saturn hit the market it was something completely different. Brand new from the ground up, everything about the car - and the company - was a radical departure from the way GM had always done business. It was not simply a Chevy Oldsmobuick; it was its own car entirely.

The line started small: There was a coupe, a sedan, and a wagon. The line would grow only with extra trims added for the first decade. Then, at the turn of the millennium, Saturn decided to expand with the LS series of mid-size cars (the SL were compacts). This was the beginning of the end, as the LS was merely a re-badged Opel Vectra from the European market, and they were plagued with problems, far in excess of the SL line.

How bad was the LS series? Let me pull from my own experience. In 2000, we were looking to trade the wife's aging convertible in on a sedan. The field was narrowed to the Honda Accord and the Saturn LS200. For the Honda, an extended warranty (bringing the bumper-to-bumper coverage to 5 years, 60K miles) with $0 deductible was $399. For the LS200 it was $2,400.

Needless to say, we bought the Accord...

That is all.

4 comments:

Jeff the Baptist said...

Saturns in general were plagued with problems going back to the start of the brand. The Saturn plant was basically organized in a way that made the workers responsible for things like quality control. Workers were supposed to stop the line if they saw something wrong, but they didn't thanks to the code of the schoolyard. It was so bad that dealerships would get cars with two different colors of seats installed in them.

TheUnpaidBill said...

FWIW, I've owned 2 Saturns, and am still driving the 2nd. It's 16 years old, has 188K miles and it shows no sign of dying. The only major repair was a transmission.

Too bad they're getting ahrd to find parts for. I will probably have to retire it when I can't get the parts for it any more.

Old NFO said...

The Saturns seemed to be feast or famine... It either ran for ever, or died in two weeks...

Joel said...

Brand new from the ground up, everything about the car - and the company - was a radical departure from the way GM had always done business. It was not simply a Chevy Oldsmobuick; it was its own car entirely.

No, Jay, not really. There were some interesting twists to the business model, and I liked the way the dealer technician training was organized (I wrote quite a lot of it, at the start-up) but while it's true that the cars were advertised to be completely utterly and in every other way new and different and wowzers, they were pretty much just GM compacts. It was a concern early on: When you hype a new thing that much, there needs to be some little something behind the hype and there really wasn't.

I recall coming out of their super-secret development center one evening, walking through the parking lot and stopping dead. "What's that Sport Coupe doing out in the open?" I wondered. Looked more closely, and it was a Geo Storm.